HAMILTON – Move over, Arnold Palmer. Robert Garrigus is taking up residence in the RBC Canadian Open record book.
Garrigus didn’t just grab the lead at Hamilton Golf and Country Club with his bogey-free 64 on Saturday, he also bettered a mark that stood for nearly half a century at the third-oldest championship in golf.
“Oops,” said Garrigus. “Sorry Arnie.”
His three-round total of 194 was one shot better than what Palmer managed at Weston Golf and Country Club in 1955 and Dean Wilson equalled two years ago at St. George’s.
It also left Garrigus in prime position to claim his second career PGA Tour title. He’ll enter the final round with a one-shot lead over William McGirt (66) and a two-shot advantage on Scott Piercy (67).
“This is what we play for,” said Garrigus, who has made just one bogey all week. “Having a one-shot lead and playing good golf, this is a blast. I’m very blessed to be in this position.
“I’ve got to go make birdies tomorrow.”
That’s what everyone has been doing at a Hamilton layout made considerably easier by persistent rain. The soft conditions have given players license to take dead aim on the traditional H.S. Colt design.
McGirt shared the overnight lead with Piercy before jumping ahead with three consecutive birdies on the front nine. There wasn’t even the slightest hint he was playing in the final pairing at a PGA Tour event for the first time in his career.
“I handled it pretty well,” said McGirt. “We got out there and just had fun and were laughing and joking all day. I know Robert will be laidback tomorrow. We’ll probably make fun of Brett, his caddie, all day long.”
Garrigus got his third round jumpstarted at the par-5 fourth hole, where he hit a five-iron from 212 yards to three feet and made eagle. He went on to make four more birdies from there and was willing to risk his health on No. 18 to preserve his spot at the top of the leaderboard.
After hitting his tee shot through the fairway to the edge of a bridge, Garrigus found himself in a hazard and had an official test his uncertain lie. He then calmly pulled out a pitching wedge from 145 yards and managed to advance the ball to the edge of the green and make par.
“If I hit it a millimetre fat, I’d break my wrist,” said Garrigus. “I was really scared to do that. I clipped the ball probably about an eighth of an inch underneath … so it probably had a little smiley face on it afterwards.”
Smiles were hard to find from the remaining Canadians in the field as none has been able to take advantage of the favourable conditions.
David Hearn (72) of Brantford, Ont., and Graham DeLaet (70) of Weyburn, Sask., were tied for low Canadian honours after three rounds — 14 shots behind Garrigus.
However, neither of those PGA Tour regulars was surprised by the number of low scores being posted this week.
“Obviously, it’s great playing,” said DeLaet. “But as soft as it is, these guys are good players and you’re going to take advantage of it. If you’re in control of your ball and making some putts you’re going to shoot some good numbers out here.”
The real challenge lies ahead. Six players will start the final round within four shots of the lead and Garrigus acknowledged he’ll have to play “foot to the floor, as much as possible.”
Garrigus has been a breath of fresh air this week, walking the course with an ever-present smile and going out of his way to speak with fans and volunteers. He’s come a long way since the 2010 St. Jude Classic — the only other time he’s held a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour — when he famously made a triple bogey on the final hole to blow a three-shot lead before losing to Lee Westwood in a playoff.
It ended up being a big learning experience as Garrigus went on to win at Disney a few months later and post two runner-up finishes earlier this season.
“My attitude is completely different,” he said. “I like playing golf, I love being a professional. I like thanking the fans. I like thanking the volunteers, you know, because they come out to watch us on their dime, and I’m very blessed, and I’m just it’s so much fun to be in this position.
“It’s not very often you get in this position, but when you do you’ve got to cherish it. And that’s really what I’m doing.”