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Hughes is top Canadian after three rounds at RBC Canadian Open

OAKVILLE, Ont. – A small boy followed Mackenzie Hughes around the final 11 holes Saturday at the RBC Canadian Open, easy to spot in a huge Toronto Maple Leafs jersey that hung down to his knees.

Hughes had delighted the boy – and the crowd gathered at the seventh hole at Glen Abbey, know as “The Rink” – when he walked up to the green wearing the Leafs jersey he’d autographed. Spotting the boy in the crowd, he tugged off the sweater, reached across the rope and handed it to him.

The lone PGA Tour stop north of the border wears its Canadian pride on its sleeve, and Hughes was happy to play his part.

“I signed it before the round, and after I was on the green, I tried to find a young Leafs fan in the crowd,” Hughes said. “(I’m a) big Leafs fan.”

The 27-year-old from Dundas, Ont., just outside Hamilton, had plenty of fans himself Saturday as he climbed 24 spots up the leaderboard with his 5-under 67 in the third round. Hughes is in a group of eight tied for 13th at 11 under, six shots behind the four leaders.

Hughes opened with four birdies on his first five holes. On No. 5, he hit a phenomenal recovery shot from under the trees to get onto the green, then finished with a long putt for birdie. He double-bogeyed on No. 11, but finished strong with five birdies on the final six holes.

“I was playing well today and I got a tough break on 11,” Hughes said. “Hit a great drive, middle of the fairway, and had the worst divot I’ve ever been in in my life. And I normally don’t skull over the green, and I skulled over the green, made a 6 there, and I was 2-under in a good spot going into the back nine.”

“But, unlike maybe (Friday) where I was probably a bit impatient at times, I just told myself I was playing well and had some chances coming in and kind of got hot there.”

Dustin Johnson, Kevin Tway, Byeong Hun An and Whee Kim shared the lead at 17 under.

Calgary’s Ryan Yip shot a 66 to climb 40 spots into a tie for 21st, seven shots off the pace. Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., shot 72 and dropped 19 spots to a tie for 29th, David Hearn (69) of Brantford, Ont., and Ben Silverman (73) of Thornhill, Ont., are 10 shots back and tied for 43rd. Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., and Chris Crisologo of Richmond, B.C., Canada’s only amateur to make the cut, are tied for 53rd, 11 shots back.

Glen Abbey first dressed up its par-3 seventh hole last summer in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday last year. “The Rink” resembles an arena, with hockey boards replacing the rope lines. Officials wear referees’ jerseys.

A day earlier, Hughes took a shot with the Leafs sweater on, charming the crowd when his chip from just off the green went in.

“I was trying to figure out if I could hit a chip without the sleeves getting in the way and the Leafs emblem all over my chest getting a little bunched up,” Hughes told reporters. “But I was, like, ‘This is very chip-in-able and if I do it with the jersey on, it’s way cooler.”’

Moments after Saturday’s round, talk turned to the Maple Leafs’ major off-season acquisition John Tavares.

“Very excited,” Hughes said of the former New York Islanders star. “He’s coming to an already very talented roster, so I think the next three, four years with him will help us out.”

Hughes had a breakthrough in the fall of 2016, when he won the RSM Classic in his fifth PGA Tour start as a member. He went wire-to-wire for the win and became the first Canadian-born golfer to win on the tour since Taylor at 2014.

Taylor had a disappointing Saturday, salvaged slightly by an eagle on the 18th hole.

“I couldn’t buy a putt the whole day, it was nice to finally make one on 18 there. Yeah, just couldn’t make a putt. Just couldn’t get it going,” said Taylor, who heads into the fourth round nine shots back of the leaders. “It was nice to finish that way, get a little momentum going into tomorrow, and getting back to even was big.”

The 30-year-old, who’s 127th on the FedExCup rankings, needs a solid result Sunday, and down the stretch of the season, to climb to into the top 125 and keep his PGA Tour card.

“It’s important on a lot of levels, it’s so bunched that a great round would go a long way,” said Taylor, who played Saturday with world No. 1 Johnson. “Again, it was huge to make that eagle to get back to even, I feel like I salvaged something on the last hole. … I would’ve like to play better, but I’m still in a good spot.”

One of Taylor’s highlights of the day also came on No. 7, birdying to a loud round of applause.

“It was awesome, that’s a moment you’ll remember for a long time, it’s pretty fun to do it on that hole,” he said. “I’ve birdied that hole every day this week, it’s been good to me.”

The 27-year-old from Dundas, Ont., just outside Hamilton, had plenty of fans himself Saturday as he climbed 24 spots up the leaderboard with his 5-under 67 in the third round. Hughes is in a group of eight tied for 13th at 11 under, six shots behind the four leaders.

Hughes opened with four birdies on his first five holes. On No. 5, he hit a phenomenal recovery shot from under the trees to get onto the green, then finished with a long putt for birdie. He double-bogeyed on No. 11, but finished strong with five birdies on the final six holes.

“I was playing well today and I got a tough break on 11,” Hughes said. “Hit a great drive, middle of the fairway, and had the worst divot I’ve ever been in in my life. And I normally don’t skull over the green, and I skulled over the green, made a 6 there, and I was 2-under in a good spot going into the back nine.”

“But, unlike maybe (Friday) where I was probably a bit impatient at times, I just told myself I was playing well and had some chances coming in and kind of got hot there.”

Dustin Johnson, Kevin Tway, Byeong Hun An and Whee Kim shared the lead at 17 under.

Calgary’s Ryan Yip shot a 66 to climb 40 spots into a tie for 21st, seven shots off the pace. Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., shot 72 and dropped 19 spots to a tie for 29th, David Hearn (69) of Brantford, Ont., and Ben Silverman (73) of Thornhill, Ont., are 10 shots back and tied for 43rd. Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., and Chris Crisologo of Richmond, B.C., Canada’s only amateur to make the cut, are tied for 53rd, 11 shots back.

Glen Abbey first dressed up its par-3 seventh hole last summer in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday last year. “The Rink” resembles an arena, with hockey boards replacing the rope lines. Officials wear referees’ jerseys.

A day earlier, Hughes took a shot with the Leafs sweater on, charming the crowd when his chip from just off the green went in.

“I was trying to figure out if I could hit a chip without the sleeves getting in the way and the Leafs emblem all over my chest getting a little bunched up,” Hughes told reporters. “But I was, like, ‘This is very chip-in-able and if I do it with the jersey on, it’s way cooler.”’

Moments after Saturday’s round, talk turned to the Maple Leafs’ major off-season acquisition John Tavares.

“Very excited,” Hughes said of the former New York Islanders star. “He’s coming to an already very talented roster, so I think the next three, four years with him will help us out.”

Hughes had a breakthrough in the fall of 2016, when he won the RSM Classic in his fifth PGA Tour start as a member. He went wire-to-wire for the win and became the first Canadian-born golfer to win on the tour since Taylor at 2014.

Taylor had a disappointing Saturday, salvaged slightly by an eagle on the 18th hole.

“I couldn’t buy a putt the whole day, it was nice to finally make one on 18 there. Yeah, just couldn’t make a putt. Just couldn’t get it going,” said Taylor, who heads into the fourth round nine shots back of the leaders. “It was nice to finish that way, get a little momentum going into tomorrow, and getting back to even was big.”

The 30-year-old, who’s 127th on the FedExCup rankings, needs a solid result Sunday, and down the stretch of the season, to climb to into the top 125 and keep his PGA Tour card.

“It’s important on a lot of levels, it’s so bunched that a great round would go a long way,” said Taylor, who played Saturday with world No. 1 Johnson. “Again, it was huge to make that eagle to get back to even, I feel like I salvaged something on the last hole. … I would’ve like to play better, but I’m still in a good spot.”

One of Taylor’s highlights of the day also came on No. 7, birdying to a loud round of applause.

“It was awesome, that’s a moment you’ll remember for a long time, it’s pretty fun to do it on that hole,” he said. “I’ve birdied that hole every day this week, it’s been good to me.”

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