Keegan Bradley rode a hot putter to the outright lead after 18 holes of the BMW Championship, finishing Thursday's play with a seven-under 64.

Bradley entered the week ranked 44th in the FedEx Cup standings, outside the top-30 who will qualify for next week's Tour Championship, but put himself in a great position thanks in large part to his work on the greens.

He collected six birdies on the front nine, and according to Data Golf's strokes gained stats, Bradley was the top overall putter in the opening round, picking up 4.00 strokes with the flat stick, while also coming in seventh in the approach category (2.02 strokes gained).

It was a similar story for Adam Scott in outright second at six under, finishing third in putting (3.30 strokes gained) and 11th in approach shots (1.82 strokes gained).

In a tie for third at five under is the trio of Harold Varner III, Shane Lowry and Justin Thomas – but they all made it there in different ways.

Varner excelled in the tee-to-green category, putting a gap on the field as he gained 5.28 strokes, with Lowry in second-place at 3.32. While Varner was the third-best driver on the day, Lowry was actually a negative off the tee, but led the field in the approach category.

Meanwhile, Thomas was solid just about everywhere, finishing on the fringe of the top-10 in tee-to-green, around the green and putting categories – despite lipping out a four-footer for his only bogey on the 15th hole.

The logjam at four under includes Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Cameron Young, and there is a star-studded group one further back at three under featuring Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. McIlroy will be left ruing a calamitous showing at the par-three 15th hole, where he found the water to triple-bogey when he was one stroke off the lead.

U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick headlines the group at two under, Hideki Matsuyama and Will Zalatoris are at one under, and recent 20-year-old winner Joo-hyung 'Tom' Kim is at even par.

Viktor Hovland and Jon Rahm will be disappointed with their rounds at two over, and the previously red-hot Tony Finau is likely out of the hunt as only two players shot worse than his six-over 77.

Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas have praised the leadership qualities of Tiger Woods after a small group of leading players met to discuss the ongoing threat posed by LIV Golf to the long-established PGA Tour.

Woods, a 15-time major champion, flew to Delaware on Tuesday to meet fellow professionals involved in the BMW Championship, including the likes of McIlroy, Thomas and Jordan Spieth.

While the details of the meeting remain undisclosed, Woods was reportedly trying to rally support from his fellow PGA Tour professionals over the battle with the breakaway series.

The 46-year-old, who is believed to have turned down an offer between $700million and $800million to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, has insisted he will play in limited events in the future as his glittering career winds down.

Nevertheless, his presence at the discussion was hugely valued by McIlroy, who feels that all in attendance are on the same page regarding what the PGA Tour must do during the ongoing battle.

The four-time major winner said: "I think the one thing that came out of it, which I think was the purpose, is all the top players on this tour are in agreement and alignment of where we should go going forward, and that was awesome.

"I think it shows how much [Tiger] cares about the players that are coming through and are going to be the next generation. We're moving into a different era, and we just have to think about things a little differently.

"Like it or not, they can't really sell Tiger Woods anymore. The tour had an easy job for 20 years. They don't have Tiger. They've got a bunch of us and we're all great players, but we're not Tiger Woods. 

"He is the hero that we've all looked up to. His voice carries further than anyone else's in the game of golf. His role is navigating us to a place where we all think we should be."

Reigning US PGA Championship winner Thomas added: "It was a productive meeting. I think it's just one of those things where we all want what's best for the players, and we're working to do that.

"I think if someone like [Tiger] is passionate about it, no offence to all of us, but that's really all that matters.

"If he's not behind something, then one, it's probably not a good idea in terms of the betterment of the game, but two, it's just not going to work. He needs to be behind something."

Should you want proof that golf is a game for life, played in different venues and for all ages, digest what was going on in various corners of the world 15 summers ago.

In the Dallas area, an 11-year-old named Scott Scheffler was crushing the competition on the North Texas PGA Junior Tour. There were victories at Shady Valley, The Links at Water Chase, Lantana GC, and by eight strokes over Vince Whaley at Twin Creeks GC.

Down in Bayou country, another 11-year-old named Sam Burns was shooting 84 in the annual Shreveport (Louisiana) City Amateur. He finished top five.

In Scotland, an 18-year-old mop-haired kid from Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy, was low amateur in the Open Championship at Carnoustie. Rounds of 68-76-73-72 served notice that this kid might be pretty good.

With rounds of 72-70, a 14-year-old from Kentucky named Justin Thomas finished second in his age group, third overall, at the Evian Masters Junior Cup in France. One perk for winning was that he got to play alongside Juli Inkster in a pro-am before the Evian Masters.

And on the other side of the world, in Hawaii, a 15-year-old Japanese player named Hideki Matsuyama dominated his match against Henry Park, 6 and 5, to help the visitors post a 24.5 to 19.5 win in the Hawaii/Japan Junior Cup.

Those were the stages, of course, played in the shadows. On the stage that mattered, a guy much older, the 31-year-old Tiger Woods, was collecting a fourth US PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Ho-hum as that might have been, given it was his 14th major, what surely resonated was Woods' achievement at the end of that summer. With an overwhelming performance in the inaugural FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour, Woods earned a cool $10million.

What stands out about that 2007 Tour Championship that nailed down the first FedEx Cup were the suffocating numbers. Woods won the season finale by eight strokes, it was his 61st career win and seventh of the season, and he finished the Tour Championship at 23-under 257.

"It has been a phenomenal week," Woods said, then very much at his understated best. He had, after all, also pocketed a cheque for $1.26million for winning the Tour Championship.

"I enjoyed being on a scoring streak, hitting good shot after good shot, and I felt very comfortable with my game. It felt good."

That was then and this is now, and what feels remarkable is how quickly time has passed and how surreal it is to know this: just 15 years after they were playing golf on mostly unheralded stages as kids, the 26-year-old Scheffler (he's Scottie now, unlike in 2007), Burns, 26; McIlroy, 33; Thomas, 29; and Matsuyama, 30, were numbers 1-2-3-4-5 in the FedEx Cup standings when the calendar flipped to July.

The flip side of Woods now being 46 is the fact the game is getting younger and, oh, how the current FedEx Cup standings reflect that. After Scheffler, Burns, McIlroy, Thomas, and Matsuyama, we have Patrick Cantlay, Cameron Smith, Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris, and Max Homa.

Average age of those 10 players: 28.5.

That is more than four years younger than the average age in 2007, the first FedEx Cup when seven of the top 10 were 31 or older. This time around, eight of the current top 10 are 30 or younger.

But if this youth parade has many marchers, the warmest spotlight must be shining on the leader, the same kid who 15 years ago was dominating the competition on the North Texas Junior PGA.

All Scheffler has done in this, his third full season on the PGA Tour, is win four times and roar into the penthouse of the Official World Golf Rankings.

Not bad, this number one designation. But some might argue that Burns is number 1A, because all he has done is win three times before, and if you go back to the middle of the 2020-21 season, Burns secured victories in four of his last 29 tournaments.

The screeching noise you heard is the arrival of the Scheffler-Burns express; they are two young men who are great friends and as if to punctuate their new-found grip on the PGA Tour, they had an exclamation point of a Sunday back in May.

Locked in a play-off at the Charles Schwab Challenge, Burns poured in a long-range birdie on the first extra hole to beat his Texas friend.

Even Scheffler flashed a wide smile that day, nodding his approval to Burns, knowing there will be many more opportunities to return the favour. Perhaps even as soon as the upcoming FedEx Cup play-offs. These are the dates that matter: August 11-14 at the FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis; August 18-21 at the BMW Championship in Wilmington, Delaware; and August 25-28 at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, Georgia.

They are tournaments that showcase the best of the elite, and whereas you might have understandably expected them to put Scheffler in awe as a 24-year-old rookie in August of 2020, it didn't work out that way. In his second round in the play-offs, Scheffler shot 59 at TPC Boston.

He didn't win that week, but a tie for fourth set in motion a nice play-off run – tied 20th at the BMW, fifth at the Tour Championship. The three who finished immediately ahead of him in the FedEx Cup standings in 2020 – Schauffele, Thomas and Jon Rahm – are key contenders for the 2021-22 FedEx Cup as a dynamic era of young and talented performers continues into the 16th edition of this season-long race.

It is amazing, the furious speed with which these kids have progressed from junior golf to the spotlight of a FedEx Cup. Then again, perhaps there are those who saw this coming. Joel Edwards, for instance.

A veteran PGA Tour performer, Edwards was in the twilight of his career when he used to practise at Royal Oaks at Dallas where Scheffler was the brightest of a stable of talented junior players.

Precocious and supremely talented, Scheffler would challenge Edwards and another PGA Tour veteran, Harrison Frazar, to random contests. Frazar confirms he lost sleeves of golf balls to a fourth-grader; Edwards concedes that "he cost me a fortune; I used to carry a bunch of quarters because I knew I'd get my butt beat [in a bid to hit practice-range poles with wedge shots]."

And if there was one thing that stood out about Scheffler back then, even beyond his uncanny golf skills, it was his appearance.

"He always wore pants. He looked like a Tour player at 10," said Edwards.

And at 11, while mowing down the local competition, perhaps Scheffler knew this brand-new FedEx Cup was someday going to be in his future.

Tiger Woods played a full 18 holes on Sunday at St Andrews as he prepared for the 150th Open next week.

Woods has not played since withdrawing after the third round of the PGA Championship in May. That was his second appearance since suffering multiple leg injuries in a car accident in February 2021. His first tournament back was The Masters in April.

Woods chose not to play in the U.S. Open last month because he had his sights set on St Andrews, where he won two of his three Open championships in 2000 and 2005.

"I had some issues with my leg, and it would have put this tournament in jeopardy, and so there's no reason to do that," Woods said.

"This is a pretty historic Open that we are going to be playing," he said. "I'm lucky enough to be part of the past champions that have won there and want to play there again, and I don't know when they are ever going to go back while I'm still able to play at a high level.

"I want to be able to give it at least one more run at a high level."

World number one Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas all missed the cut at the Scottish Open as Matt Fitzpatrick and Xander Schauffele moved into contention behind leader Cameron Tringale.

Masters champion Scheffler followed up a three-over 73 with a 72 for the second round, putting him 12 strokes behind Tringale, who came back down to earth with a 72 following his stunning nine-under 61 in the opening round, failing to recover after a run of five bogeys in six holes.

Morikawa, who will defend his Open title at St Andrews next week, will also miss the weekend following a four-over 74 that took him to five over. He made the turn four over and a further bogey at the second, and a double at the fourth cancelled out three birdies on his back nine.

US PGA champion Thomas endured a nightmare day at The Renaissance Club, carding eight bogeys and a double for his 77, which dropped him to 10 over par.

World number eight Viktor Hovland, Will Zalatoris and Hideki Matsuyama also missed the cut, as did Ian Poulter, playing on the co-sanctioned DP World Tour and PGA Tour event despite his defection to LIV Golf. Poulter finished 10 over.

But U.S. Open champion Fitzpatrick and Schauffele remain firmly in the hunt.

They are each four shots off the pace, though Fitzpatrick's 66 would have been even better if not for successive bogeys on his final two holes.

Schauffele went one better with a 65, his round starting at the 10th with an eagle and ending with a well-executed chip in for birdie at the par-three ninth.

Jordan Smith is also three under after his second round, the Englishman winning himself and his caddie a car with a hole-in-one on the 17th, only to follow it with a closing bogey and card a 69.

Tringale's American compatriots Gary Woodland and Doug Ghim are his closest challengers on four under.

Ghim is in position to secure a place at St Andrews as the highest-placed player not already sure of a place in the field. Kurt Kitayama (three under) and Rafa Cabrera Bello (two under) would also qualify as it stands.

Justin Thomas says he is relishing the tough U.S. Open conditions despite seeing his chances of winning back-to-back majors surely disappear.

The 29-year-old, who won the US PGA Championship last month, carded a third-round 72 on Saturday to leave him on three over par going into the final day.

Thomas had no complaints over the set-up at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, where the wind made life difficult for the best players in the world once again.

"I played really, really well," he told a media conference. "It was very difficult out there. I just didn't get anything out of it.

"I fought back and stayed very patient for having some things not go my way. It's a bummer to finish with a bogey on 18, but I really played solid today.

"I hit it really well. I drove it well. Hit my irons really well. Just had a hard time saving pars when I missed greens, but yeah, tee to green I played beautifully.

"I said to Bones [his caddie Jim Mackay] walking up 18, this is how a U.S. Open should be. It's very difficult. Par is great score on a lot of holes. Bogeys aren't going to kill you.

"We don't do this very often, and I think it's very, very fitting and totally acceptable to have this kind of test and this difficult setup for a U.S. Open, and it's strictly because of conditions.

"The greens are getting firm. It's windy, and it should be tough."

Will Zalatoris moved into the lead on four under with with a hugely impressive three-under 67 and he Matthew Fitzpatrick joined him when he birdied the 15th.

Scottie Scheffler had been two shots clear before a double bogey at 11, followed by another three dropped shots in as many holes.

 

Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen are the 36-hole leaders of the U.S. Open after an entertaining second round at The Country Club on Friday, tied at five under.

Dahmen was one stroke off the lead after the first round, and he followed it up with a strong 68 in windy conditions. He is one of three players to shoot 68 or better in the opening two rounds. Morikawa came into the day at one under, and shot the round of the day as the only player to get around in 66. 

One stroke back from the lead is a five-man group headlined by stars Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, along with American duo Hayden Buckley and Aaron Wise. Buckley and Wise were the two players along Dahmen to shoot back-to-back 68s.

Beau Hossler joined that group at four under thanks to a chip-in birdie on his final hole.

World number one Scottie Scheffler is part of the group at three under, and he shared the early clubhouse lead following a three-under 67. He is joined by Nick Hardy, Matthew NeSmith, Patrick Rodgers and Brian Harman to round out the top-10.

Overnight leader Adam Hadwin is a further shot back at two under with Sam Burns and Matt Fitzpatrick, while South Africa's M.J. Daffue – who was three strokes clear atop the leaderboard early in his round at six under – posted five bogeys and no birdies down the back nine to head into the weekend at one under.

Also at one under are hopefuls Xander Schauffele and Will Zalatoris, still well within striking distance, while Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka headline the group at even par.

Star-studded duo Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson are at one over, and the pair of Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau are at two over, one stroke clear of the cut-line.

Finishing right on the cut-line at three over was recent winner Lee Kyoung-hoon and Colombia's Sebastian Munoz, who has a pair of top-three finishes this season.

Plenty of big names missed the cut, with the international contingent of Spain's Sergio Garcia, Ireland's Shane Lowry, Chile's Mito Pereira and Canada's Corey Conners all one shot out at four over. Tony Finau finished five over, Cameron Smith was six over, and the pair of Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland were both at seven over.

 

Shot of the day

Cameron Young had a moment he will never forget when he conjured up a hole-in-one at the par-three sixth.

There were huge cheers after the American's dream tee shot at the 165-yard hole dropped in. Young was unable to make the cut – missing out by one stroke – but not without achieving a rare feat.

Player of the day - Collin Morikawa

Morikawa produced the round of the day to ensure he is the man to catch heading into the weekend.

The two-time major winner was not at his brilliant best, but five birdies and just the one bogey at the par-five fourth putting him in the lead.

Chipping in

Morikawa: "No one has taken it deep so far and kind of run away, but you know what, right now my game feels really good. The last few days is a huge confidence booster for me heading into this weekend, and hopefully we can kind of make some separation somehow."

Scheffler: "I've been number one in the world for a while now, and it doesn't really feel like it, so I kind of like just under the radar. I can show up and do my thing and then go home and rest."

 

A little birdie told me...

- Young's ace was the 48th in US Open history.

- Nick Hardy and M.J. Daffue emerged from the Springfield, Ohio qualifying. They both held a share of the lead on Friday.

- Scheffler is bidding to become only the second player to win this major while world number one since the Official World Golf Rankings began in 1986. Tiger Woods (2000, 2002 and 2008) is the only man to achieved that.

- Matthew Fitzpatrick is looking to emulate Jack Nicklaus by winning the US Amateur and US Open on the same course.

The season's third major begins on Thursday in Brookline, Massachusetts as the U.S. Open gets under way at The Country Club.

There will be a strange feeling at the tournament with it being the first major since the controversial LIV Golf International Series began.

The USGA has confirmed that players involved in the Saudi-backed breakaway who qualified for the U.S. Open will still be allowed to compete, despite the PGA Tour taking a harder stance and suspending those who played in last week's inaugural LIV Golf event in London.

That means the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia will be present in Brookline.

Tiger Woods will not participate due to fitness concerns, but there are plenty of other potential candidates to go for victory at The Country Club, such as world number one Scottie Scheffler and defending champion Jon Rahm.

Stats Perform's experts have taken a look at who they believe could succeed.

RORY'S THE STORY AND HE'S PRIMED FOR MORE GLORY – Russell Greaves

Rory McIlroy has set the standards on and off the course in recent weeks, his win at the Canadian Open coming after he had pledged his allegiance to the PGA Tour in the midst of the inaugural LIV Golf event. That was the Northern Irishman's 21st PGA Tour title, fittingly edging him ahead of LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, a fact McIlroy himself was quick to point out. In Massachusetts, McIlroy can distinguish himself even further from the likes of two-time major winner Norman as he seeks a fifth such title and second at this event. With accuracy off the tee likely to yield a premium on this course, McIlroy has the game to match his momentum and will doubtless be well backed by punters and fans alike. Sunday also marks 11 years to the day since McIlroy won the U.S. Open, collecting his first major success in the process.

DJ READY TO PLAY THE VILLAIN – Ben Spratt

Sure, Rory's return to the winners' circle at a major would be great, but that story surely pales next to the possibility of one of the LIV Golf rebels swooping in and taking the title. Johnson likely remains the breakaway league's best bet. Of course, he would not be a popular winner in front of a presumably vociferous Boston crowd, and the form book is not in his favour either, but Johnson has the talent to spoil the party; a U.S. Open victory in 2016 was the third of three straight top-five finishes – and it was only 18 months ago he was dominating the Masters. The 37-year-old has not won any event this year, in what stands as a career first, but this would be some time to end that drought.

RAHM READY TO MAKE HISTORY AFTER PLEDGING PGA LOYALTY – Patric Ridge

"I've never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world. I've always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that." Those were the words of world number two Rahm, who is out to defend his title this week. Rahm finished T23 on his first appearance at the U.S. Open as a low amateur back in 2016, before he failed to make the cut in the next two years. However, he was tied for third in 2019 and T23 in 2020 prior to clinching his first major crown last year, finishing with two birdies on the final two holes to become the first Spanish golfer to win the major. The 27-year-old ranks first on the PGA Tour for shots gained off-the-tee, and although he struggled at the US PGA Championship, he has the opportunity to make history and create the legacy he dreams of in Massachusetts.

ROSE CAN BE A THORN IN RIVALS' SIDE – Peter Hanson

On the face of it, tipping a player ranked 48th in the world without a win to his name since January 2019 (Farmers Insurance Open) looks a little right field. At the time of that triumph, Justin Rose was world number one, but it has been a pretty mixed bag since then. Momentum is king in golf, though, and the Englishman scored a tie for fourth at the Canadian Open last weekend after shooting a sensational 10-under-par 60 in round four. Moreover, to win a U.S. Open you have to fight and scramble for a good score – qualities Rose, the 2013 champion, certainly possesses.

THOMAS HAS THE ENGINE NOT TO TANK – David Segar

Having won the PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in May, Justin Thomas comes into this full of confidence and with good reason. He showed incredible fight to edge victory against Will Zalatoris in a play-off in Tulsa, having trailed by eight shots with 10 holes to play in the final round. Ranked fifth in the world, Thomas has always had the talent but, like many, it was always a question of putting it all together when the majors came around. With the experience of doing so fresh in his mind, and showing good form with third place at the Canadian Open, Thomas could pull off the rare feat of back-to-back major wins.

Justin Thomas called it "sad" that LIV Golf continues to dominate the headlines in the lead-up to the U.S. Open.

LIV Golf's first event took place this past weekend, with South Africa's Charl Schwartzel pocketing $4.75million as the inaugural winner.

Made possible through Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, the upstart tour has thrown exorbitant sums of money at PGA Tour players to poach them away, including Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson.

Speaking to the media after opting to not play in Monday's U.S. Open practice round, Thomas said the ubiquitous LIV Golf discussion during one of the great weeks on the golfing calendar was "sad".

"I grew up my entire life wanting to play the PGA Tour," he said. "Wanting to break records, make history, play Presidents Cups, play Ryder Cups.

"The fact that things like that could potentially get hurt because of some of the people that are leaving, and if more go, it's just sad. 

"It's really no other way to say it. It just makes me sad, because like I said, I've grown up my entire life wanting to do that, and I don't want to do anything else.

"The people that have gone, like I said, they have the decision that they're entitled to make. Not necessarily that I agree with it one way or the other, but everything has got a price, I guess."

He later added: "You can't go anywhere without somebody bringing it up.

"It's sad. This is the U.S. Open, and this is an unbelievable venue, a place with so much history, an unbelievable field, so many storylines, and yet that seems to be what all the questions are about.

"That's unfortunate. That's not right to the USGA. That's not right for the U.S. Open. That's not right for us players. But that's, unfortunately, where we're at right now."

Thomas was not done there, going on to discuss why he does not think the money is worth it, but also why it is not fair to make character assessments on the players who decided to make the move.

"There's no amount of money that you could get that [can make you happy doing something] you don't love or enjoy," he said. 

"You're still going to be miserable. You're still not going to enjoy it. Although you might be miserable in a bigger house or a nicer car, that doesn't necessarily mean that your life is going to be any better.

He added: "I'm the first to admit that there's times where people do something, and I bash them – obviously not externally – maybe internally with friends or whatever it is. It's not necessary.

"You can disagree with the decision. You can maybe wish that they did something differently… being in the media as a writer, you have to write about it. I understand that. 

"But for people at home to necessarily say that Dustin Johnson is now a bad person, that's not fair. That's just not right.

"Now, again, I said it last week, I'll say it again, do I wish he wouldn't have done it, and am I a little sad about it? Yeah – but it is what it is."

Rory McIlroy saved his best for last to defend his Canadian Open title on Sunday and could not resist a sly dig at LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman afterwards.

At the end of a chaotic week for the sport, with the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series commencing in competition with the PGA Tour, McIlroy posted his best round of the tournament at St. George's with an eight-under 62.

Playing in the final group with Tony Finau and Justin Thomas, the 33-year-old finished on 19-under for the tournament in front of a packed gallery and secured his 21st PGA Tour win, moving him ahead of Norman's 20.

Though evidently happy he secured the win heading into the U.S. Open, as one of the more vocal critics of LIV Golf, the world number eight made sure everyone knew he was aware he had overtaken Norman.

"Twenty-first PGA Tour win. One more than someone else," he told CBS. "That gave me a little bit of extra incentive today. Happy to get it done.

"It's incredible. Playing with Tony [Finau] and JT [Thomas], two of the top players in the world, and all of us playing the way we did, the worst score in the group was six-under par.

"This is a day I'll remember for a long, long time. I've sort of rededicated myself to the game a little bit, sort of realised what made me happy and this makes me happy."

McIlroy led the entire way on Sunday, starting the final round in a share of the lead with Finau.

He started fast, too, making five birdies on the front nine before commencing the back nine with another three on the bounce.

Bogeys on the 13th and 16th holes opened the door for Thomas and Finau but it was promptly shut, with the Northern Irishman closing out the round with another pair of birdies.

Finau and Thomas finished outright second and third on 17- and 15-under respectively, while Justin Rose tied Sam Burns on 14-under after bogeying the 18th to just miss out on a spectacular sub-60 score.

Tony Finau birdied the final hole for an eight-under 62 on Saturday to share the lead with Rory McIlroy, coming into the final round of the Canadian Open.

Finau had the best round of the tournament so far, scoring an eagle on the par-five ninth before making four birdies on the back nine.

The 32-year-old is looking for only his third PGA Tour victory, with his last win coming in a playoff over Cameron Smith in last year's Northern Trust.

McIlroy had a tricky uphill putt to also birdie on the 18th hole, despite an exceptional approach to set it up, but he had to ultimately two-putt to finish the round after his birdie attempt skimmed over the edge of the cup.

The 33-year-old has been in confident touch at St. George's this week and continued that on Saturday, posting a five-under 65 with assertive driving and wedge-play.

After a bogey on the par-three eighth, the Northern Irishman responded with three birdies over the next four holes, before managing another birdie on the par-five 15th.

The final hole would have been an apt punctuation mark for his third round, after scores of 66 and 68 over the opening two days.

McIlroy has had to wait three years to defend his 2019 title, with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing a cancellation of the tournament in 2020 and 2021.

He is among five players ranked in the world's top ten in a high-profile field at Toronto, coming into next weekend's U.S. Open, with Justin Thomas and Sam Burns joined by Wyndham Clark and Alex Smalley on nine-under.

Cameron Smith has recovered from an opening-round six-over 76 to finish on one-under after 54 holes, posting a 68 on Saturday, while world number one Scottie Scheffler scored a disappointing 71.

Wyndham Clark was able to hold onto his outright lead at the Canadian Open with an even par second round on Friday, one stroke ahead of Rory McIlroy and the chasing field.

Clark remains at seven under after a spectacular 63 on Thursday, posting three birdies and three bogeys on his second trip around the course.

McIlroy headlines the five-man group at six under, along with American trio Keith Mitchell, Jim Knous and Alex Smalley, as well as England's Matt Fitzpatrick, who closed his round with three consecutive bogeys to surrender the lead.

Alone at five under in outright seventh is Austin Cook, who posted Friday's round of the day with his six-under 64, going bogey-free with six birdies to vault himself into contention after entering play at one over.

Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns are in a logjam at four under, as is Shane Lowry, while Tony Finau and Harold Varner III are one further back at three under, rounding out the top-20.

Justin Thomas shot his second consecutive 69 to head into the weekend at two under, while English trio Danny Willett, Justin Rose and Aaron Rai sit at one under.

The second-best score of the round belonged to Cameron Smith, who shot a 65 to land right on the cut-line after a calamitous 76 in his opener.

Rory Sabbatini and Stuart McDonald missed the cut by one stroke, while Camilo Villegas was a further shot back after going five over on his last four holes.

Wyndham Clark leads the Canadian Open after the first round of play, shooting a seven-under 63 in Toronto on Thursday.

Amid an awkward atmosphere around the course with LIV Golf's commencement outside London on Thursday and suspension for players part of the rebel tour, Clark was able to hold his lead against the afternoon wave of players.

After securing a berth at next weekend's U.S. Open in a qualifier on Monday, the 28-year-old carried some confidence into the opening day at St. George's Golf and Country Club, starting with five birdies on the opening nine.

He went bogey-free on the closing nine holes, scoring birdies on the par-four fourth and seventh holes.

Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas have supported the PGA Tour's decision to suspend all players competing in the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sent a memo to all members on Thursday confirming the news, shortly after LIV Golf's first event had launched at Centurion Club near London.

All 17 Tour members competing in the first Saudi-backed tournament of the breakaway series, including six-time major winner Phil Mickelson, were informed they are no longer eligible to play in events on the circuit.

The memo warned that any player featuring in future LIV events will face a similar punishment.

McIlroy said on Wednesday he understands why some have made the switch due to the huge sums of money on offer, but the Northern Irishman is pleased with the decision to block players from competing on both circuits.

"I think at this point, Jay [Monahan] has been pretty transparent in terms of he's just going to act within the tournament regulations and the rules that are set for a PGA Tour member," McIlroy said.

"All he's doing is basically going by the book. I think that the majority of the membership that are here this week and that haven't gone and played elsewhere really appreciate that.

"So, I think he's done the right thing because these guys have broken rules and done things outside of the tournament regulations, and because of that, there are going to be consequences, I guess."

McIlroy was speaking after carding an opening-round 66 at the RBC Canadian Open on Thursday, with Thomas three shots further back.

While the four-time major winner is against the idea of the breakaway series, he will be tuning in out of curiosity.

"I think like everyone else, I'm intrigued and I'm a fan of golf," McIlroy said. "I've got quite a few guys over there that I call friends that are playing. 

"Yeah, of course I'll see it and watch it and see what all the fuss is about."

Mickelson is the highest-profile casualty of Thursday's announcement, with Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia having already notified the Tour that they have resigned their membership.

Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter are among the other notable names featuring at the three-day LIV Golf Invitational London event that will have 12 teams and 48 players.

Echoing the comments made by McIlroy, Thomas said: "I'm pleased. I think anybody that's shocked clearly hasn't been listening to the message that Jay and everybody's been putting out. They took that risk going into it, whether they thought it was a risk or not.

"Like I've said the whole time, I have great belief and great confidence in the PGA Tour and where we're going and continuing to grow to, and those guys just aren't going to be a part of it.

"[LIV Golf] are obviously throwing so much money at people that it's very hard to turn down. I don't care what you say in terms of that people play for different reasons. It doesn't matter who you are or what it is, everything has a number.

"They're reaching that number for some people, and I hope that they don't get others. But I think a very strong core group of us is very stable and firm in our position, and I hope that it stays that way."

World number one Scottie Scheffler remained in a tie for the lead after his second consecutive bogey-free round at the Charles Schwab Challenge, going one stroke better than his Thursday 66 to sit at nine under.

Scheffler's 65 was one shot off the round of the day, and he did it with back-to-back birdies on holes one and two, before also making gains at 10, 12 and 17 down the back nine.

Fellow round one leader Beau Hossler matched Scheffler again – but after two eagles on par-fours in his first round, he did it in much more traditional fashion this time around, also going bogey-free with five birdies.

Joining that pair atop the leaderboard was Scott Stallings, one of two players to shoot Friday's best score of 64, along with New Zealand's Danny Lee, who improved to sit six off the lead after a 73 on Thursday.

Speaking to Golf Channel after stepping off the 18th green, Scheffler said improvements he has made this season are paying off after traditionally struggling at Colonial Country Club.

"I've worked really hard, just creating a lot of different shots for myself," he said.

"This golf course is a lot about the approach play, and at first it didn't suit my eye, but I've really changed and improved my iron play and created a lot of different shots for myself, and it looks like the hard work is paying off here.

"I think I like it when the conditions are really hard, I'd rather it be very difficult than very easy.

"I feel like it's one of those things where if you're playing really good golf you can kind of extend yourself, so I'm excited for the challenges this weekend."

Patrick Reed sat one stroke back from the lead, alone at eight under after his second 66 of the week, with fellow Americans Pat Perez and Chris Kirk rounding out the top five at seven under.

Next came a five-man group at six under consisting of Americans Max McGreevy, Harold Varner III and Davis Riley, with Australian Cam Davis and Norway's Viktor Hovland.

Pre-tournament favourite Jordan Spieth, Webb Simpson and John Huh stood at five under, while Mito Pereira headlined the logjam at four under, still in the mix after his capitulation at the US PGA Championship last weekend.

Max Homa finished three strokes inside the cut line at two under, while Tony Finau and Rickie Fowler were at one under, and Im Sung-jae was one inside the line at even par.

Collin Morikawa and Talor Gooch made the weekend on the number, finishing at one over, while the US PGA Championship playoff pairing of Will Zalatoris and Justin Thomas were both at three over, out of the hunt this time.

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