The Canadian Open showcased the quality the breakaway LIV Golf Invitational Series could not match on Saturday, with defending champion Rory McIlroy sitting atop a glittering leaderboard featuring three of the world’s top 10.
After a week of verbal sparring and threats between the PGA Tour and the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Series, the spotlight was on golf on Saturday with the Canadian Open underscoring the quality gap between the two Tours.
South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel held off compatriot Hennie Du Plessis to win the opening event of the LIV Series at the Centurion Club outside London to collect the biggest pay cheque in golf history of $4 million.
Schwartzel’s victory ended a tumultuous launch week for the breakaway circuit which is backed to the tune of $250 million by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
Organisers will point to decent-sized crowds, plenty of glitz and the presence of big names, including six-time major champion Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia.
The PGA Tour, meanwhile, can point to a rollicking third round at St George’s Golf and Country Club which ended with four-time major winner McIlroy and world number 18 Tony Finau tied atop the leaderboard at 11-under.
Lurking two back going into Sunday’s final round are world number six and PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas and number nine Sam Burns.
The field also includes world number one Scottie Scheffler, who sits eight back going into Sunday, and number four Australian Cam Smith, who is well back at 10 off the pace.
“You look at it out there today, I mean it’s certainly the best atmosphere of any golf tournament going on this week,” said McIlroy, who has been vocal in support and loyalty to the PGA Tour. “I’m pretty sure what’s going to happen over the final 18 holes here is going to be more entertaining than what other golf was played this week anywhere else.”
While the Canadian Open appears headed towards a bright finish, the tournament has spent much of the week under an ominous cloud.
The LIV Series has been an unwanted distraction, announcing a new signing almost every day, starting with six-time major winner Phil Mickelson on Monday, followed by Bryson DeChambeau on Friday and Patrick Reed on Saturday.
Then as opening round play was just getting underway on Thursday, the PGA Tour said it had suspended players taking part in the LIV series – a move LIV organisers described as vindictive and which could lead to a legal battle. read more
Thomas took a moment on Saturday to praise the Canadian Open as an example of what those joining the LIV Series were missing.
“Obviously with everything going on this week was going to be very special regardless,” said Thomas. “But I think it just, without sounding cheesy, it makes me pretty happy inside seeing this.
“And it looks like it has a potential tomorrow to produce a little bit more of that and create some more history.”