Adam Hadwin carrying hopes of a nation into final round of Canadian Open

Adam Hadwin enters Sunday’s final round of the RBC Canadian Open a shot off the lead and looking to become the first native champion in 65 years

The 13th hole at Hamilton Golf and Country Club has been transformed this week into “The Rink,” a place for hockey-mad fans to drink and root on their favorite players at the RBC Canadian Open. In Saturday’s third round, native son Adam Hadwin gave them something to cheer about.

Hadwin, a native of Abbotsford, British Columbia, was plodding along at even par for his round when he came to the 13th, a 217-yard par-three. There are no course marshals around this hole. Instead, there are “referees” in full uniform with hockey boards surrounded the tee box. Hadwin’s approach shot settled just off the green, 44 feet from the hole. His chip landed well short of the pin and kept rolling until it found the bottom of the cup for a momentum-building birdie. He finished with two more birdies, including an up-and-down on the par-five 17th, to shoot three-under 67 on Saturday.

Hadwin is at 12-under through 54 holes, just a shot off the lead as he attempts to end a long Canadian drought at their national open. No Canadian has won this tournament since Pat Fletcher in 1954. Hadwin has come close before, finishing in a tie for fourth place in 2011. Back then he was just a young player on the Web.com Tour. Now he’s a PGA Tour champion and a member of the exclusive 59 club. At 79th, he’s the highest-ranked Canadian in the Official World Golf Rankings.

If he’s to end 65 years of Canadian futility on Sunday, he’ll have to overcome a crowded leaderboard. The three players ahead of him, Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar, include two major champions and the current FedEx Cup points leader. He admits the enormity of what he could accomplish tomorrow afternoon will weigh on him tonight.

“Of course I’m going to be thinking about it. This is why we play this game, to put yourself in a position to win a golf tournament,” he told TSN after his round. A lot of good players ahead of me though…lot of firepower still in front of me.”

McIlroy, playing in Canada for the first time in preparation for the U.S. Open next week, equaled the low round of the day with a six-under 64 to get into a tie for the lead. The Canadian fans in Hamilton have shown their appreciation for his presence this week, chanting “Let’s Go Rory” and treating the Northern Irishman almost like an adopted Canadian. He’s taken notice and says he’s enjoying the raucous fan reaction so far.

“It’s probably the best atmosphere I’ve played in a long time,” he said. “I think what they’ve been able to do here is like right on the limit of fun but still in keeping with the traditions of the game, so I think it’s been awesome. I’ve really enjoyed my time here.”

McIlroy, Kuchar and Simpson are at 13-under for the tournament, with Hadwin in a group at 12-under that also includes Shane Lowry and 2013 Canadian Open champion Brandt Snedeker. Two other Canadians, Mackenzie Hughes and Nick Taylor, go into the final round on Sunday inside the top-10.

The three Canadians near the top of the leaderboard have all won on the PGA Tour before, but a win on home soil would trump anything they’ve accomplished so far. The boisterous crowd has waited more than six decades to cheer on a homegrown champion, and Hadwin, Hughes and Taylor will need all the support they can get if they hope to end that drought tomorrow.