by Al Campbell
TORONTO, June 8 (Xinhua) -- China's Yuan Yechun was one shot off the pace after the opening round of the RBC Canadian Open on Thursday as the Dalian native battled to a four-under 68 under wet conditions at Oakdale Golf and Country Club.
In the first PGA Tour event since the US circuit announced on Tuesday that it was merging with the DP World Tour and the rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf, Canadian Corey Conners gave the hometown fans something to cheer about in shooting a five-under 67 to share the first-round lead with Americans Justin Lower and Chesson Hadley and Englishman Aaron Rai.
With intermittent rain during his afternoon round that started from the back nine at the Toronto-area course, Yuan carded seven birdies and three bogeys to sit equal fifth in a group of nine players that included England's Matthew Fitzpatrick, the defending champion at next week's US Open.
Dou Zecheng, the only other Chinese player in the field, shot three-over 75.
"Definitely a good score on this course. It's definitely a challenging track," said Yuan who is looking to change the form that has seen him making only five cuts in 16 starts this season. "I played really freely today, which I haven't been doing the last couple of tournaments. I'm glad mentally that I kind of had a turnaround. I tried to just have as much fun as possible out here."
Conners, who is attempting to become the first Canadian to win his national open since Pat Fletcher last did it in 1954, also started from the back nine and held steady to card five birdies in his bogey-free, early morning round under dry conditions.
"Had a bit of a shaky start but settled in and had a lot of fun. They (the fans) were certainly rooting us on. It's a great group to be in and fun to be back home in Canada," said the Ontario native, the world No. 29.
Rai, who has made one cut in his last five tournaments, bounced back from a horrible start that saw him sitting three-over through five holes. Starting from the seventh hole he would play flawless golf in going on to card eight birdies to finish his early morning round.
"There are a lot of good things that went into today that hopefully we can take moving forward. But it's funny, the more you try and force it and impose it on coming days, the less it seems to happen," said the Wolverhampton native, winner of the 2018 Hong Kong Open. "So we'll definitely take the positives and just try and approach the rounds with the right kind of mindset. Stay patient."
Rory McIlroy, the two-time defending champion, carded a 71 featuring five birdies and four bogeys after getting stuck in the lengthy Oakdale rough on more than one occasion.
"The course is good. It's penal. If you miss fairways the rough is very, very thick. Yeah, I certainly hit a few loose shots and got myself out of position and the golf course does start to get quite tricky from there," said the world No. 3 who will be aiming to win his fifth major next week in Los Angeles. "I need to do a better job of just putting my ball in play off the tee. From there the golf course is still quite scorable."