OAKVILLE, Ont. – David Hearn will carry the hopes of a nation with him Sunday.
It’s been 61 years since a Canadian has won his national championship – a drought that Hearn has put himself in position to end thanks to a round of 4-under-par 68 Saturday at Glen Abbey Golf Club.
That gets him to 15-under 201 through 54 holes and gives the 36-year-old from Brantford, Ont., a two-stroke lead in the RBC Canadian Open as he looks to become the first countryman since Pat Fletcher in 1954 to win the championship Sunday (3 p.m., CBS).
“I played real solid today,” Hearn said. “I couldn’t be happier with where my game’s at right now. Getting on to that first tee today, the ovation I received was something I’ll remember for a very long time. I hit a great tee shot and I felt very in control of my game all day. It was so much fun to play in front of these hometown crowds.”
It’s surely just a taste of what’s to come. On what’s forecast to be a glorious day here southwest of Toronto, Hearn can expect to have a massive gallery cheering on his every shot. The challenge, then, will be to feed off that energy instead of letting the immense pressure eat him up.
“I’m looking forward to embracing it,” he said. “It’s something you dream of, obviously being Canadian, to be in the final group leading this golf tournament. It’s a position that I’ve … worked for my entire career. I’m excited for the opportunity and feel like I’m ready to step up to the challenge.”
It will be an immense one. Chasing Hearn are a pair of the best players in the world. Bubba Watson will join Hearn in the final group, which tees off at 1:35 p.m., and just in front of them will be Australian Jason Day. They are tied for second place at 13-under 203 after Watson shot 4-under 68 and Day 3-under 69 Saturday.
“I’m right where I want to be,” Watson said. “I just wish the leader was a little closer to us.”
Watson laid waste to the three par-5 holes on the back nine Saturday, making an eagle and two birdies to get into the final pairing. With two of the last three holes on the 7,253-yard course being par-5s, the drama should be at a maximum.
“The crowd can watch some great golf, some crazy golf, and hopefully see some excitement,” Watson said. “Obviously the sponsor and the crowd here want a Canadian to win.”
Watson, the No. 3-ranked player in the world, won’t be without any crowd support, though. His wife, Angie, is from the Toronto suburb of Pickering.
“I’m half Canadian, I guess you could say, so hopefully they’ll pull for me, too,” Watson joked. “Truthfully, let’s be honest, we don’t think about where somebody’s from. All we think about is there’s a guy in front of us.”
Hearn made sure of that by playing a near-flawless round Saturday. Starting the day three shots off the lead, he went out in 3-under 32. His only misstep came when he went from bunker to bunker on the par-4 17th and made bogey.
“I know I’m not going to play a perfect round of golf and I won’t play a perfect round of golf tomorrow,” he said. “But if I can keep giving myself good chances and make more birdies than bogeys, I feel I’ll be in a good spot to contend on 18.”
Playing in the final group with Watson, who is averaging nearly 50 yards more off the tee, might also be a good thing, Hearn said.
“I’m just really going to have to focus on playing my own game,” Hearn said. “He plays a game with which nobody else on this tour is familiar. He hits the ball incredibly long and hits some shots that most players don’t try. So it’ll be fun.
“Hopefully I’ll make some birdies and David will beat Goliath, I guess.”
Of course, they aren’t the only two in the mix.
Day hasn’t let missing out on a playoff by one shot in last week’s British Open linger, closing with birdies on six of the last seven holes after he dropped three shots with a bogey on the par-4 10th and double bogey on the par-4 11th after his second shot found the water.
“Almost crashed into the wall,” Day said of that part of his round. “I was getting frustrated … and to be able to have a little bit of a break on 12, because it’s a bit of a hold-up … helped me relax a little bit, let the steam get out.”
With the wind expected to die down Sunday, red numbers should be expected.
“We have to go out and chase that lead down,” Day said. “It would be great to see a Canadian win, but I’m going to do my best to try to spoil that.”
Seven more players are within four shots of the lead, including Michael Putnam and Brooks Koepka at 12-under 204. The group of five players at 11-under 205 includes Jim Furyk, 36-hole leader Chad Campbell, Camilo Villegas, Johnson Wagner and Emiliano Grillo.
“I still have to go out there tomorrow and perform,” Hearn said. “I know 15-under is not going to win this golf tournament. I have to go out tomorrow and play a good round of golf. Doesn’t really matter what names are where or who is doing what, I just have to focus on my own game.”
Hearn has some recent experience in being in contention on Sunday, having lost in a playoff earlier this month at the Greenbrier Classic.
“I played real solid there in the playoff,” he said. “It just didn’t turn out my way. So I feel like, yeah, there will be pressure out there, but there’s pressure to win any tournament on the PGA Tour.”
Pressure is one thing, though. The weight of expectation of an entire nation is another.
“It’s something where he has to kind of put that out of his head,” Day said. “The ball doesn’t know what tournament it is. He does, unfortunately.”