Joel Dahmen is a surprise co-leader with Rory McIlroy after 36 holes of the U.S. Open at The Country Club – and he was contemplating skipping the qualifier.

Dahmen, 34, is one of three players to shoot 68 or better in both rounds, finishing the first round one off the lead after a 67, before backing it up with a 68 on Friday. Hayden Buckley and Aaron Wise both posted a pair of 68s, and are one stroke off the lead in a tie for third.

In his second trip around the course, Dahmen had a strong front nine, birdieing the first hole as well as the fifth and eighth, with a bogey on the second. He started the back nine poorly, with a bogey on 10, but followed it with seven pars and a long birdie putt.

Speaking to the media after his round, he confirmed the story that he almost pulled out of the qualifier where he punched his ticket.

"There was a lot of discussion leading up to it, yeah, the prior week," he said. "I told my wife I wasn't going to do it.

"Then I was tired at Memorial and said I wasn't going to do it. I was never really going to do it until I… sort of played better at Memorial and the game was there.

"My coach, Rob Rashell, came out and things started to trend in the right direction. And then [my caddie] Geno [Bonnalie], I felt bad because he didn't switch his flight when he could have got home Sunday night, so at that point I had to stick it out."

Clearly, he is thrilled with his decision.

"I'm incredibly happy now for sure," he said. "I mean, sometimes you take for granted what you have out here a little bit. 

"I think this is my eighth or ninth major championship, and you think not long ago I would have done a lot of things to play in one, and to think that I have an opportunity just to skip one, kind of looking back, even this whole week, you don't appreciate really.

"I've played 130-odd events. I've been six years out here. It's easy to get in a lull and be like, you just go home for two weeks and hang out and everything is all hunky-dory, but when you get here, everything changes as soon as you get on property. 

"It's a USGA event. It's huge. People everywhere. So, yeah, that changes your mind pretty quickly."

After finding some form recently, Dahmen said he is starting to encounter fans who know who he is – something he does not believe will ever feel normal.

"It is unbelievable to me how many people know my name or yell for me out there," he said. "It's weird. 

"I'm getting recognized a little bit more off the golf course – my wife will look at me, like, what is happening? 

"It's not normal. I don't know if I'll ever get used to it, but it comes with good golf."

Rory McIlroy is content with his performance across the first two rounds at The Country Club, coming into Friday one stroke off the lead, and finishing the same way after a one-under 69.

McIlroy trails only Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen, who lead at five under, but he needed to close in style to shoot back up the leaderboard after a shaky start.

His week threatened to fall apart on the third hole, but he was able to save double-bogey with a 30-foot putt to take some sort of momentum. He birdied the fifth and eighth, but bogeyed the sixth and 10th, leaving him at one under overall with eight holes to play.

But his final eight holes were magnificent, with birdies on 12, 14 and 17 to salvage an under-par round and maintain his one stroke deficit from the leaders.

Speaking to the media after his round, McIlroy said being in the hunt after Friday is all you can ask for at a major.

"After 36 holes in a major championship, that's all you want to do is put yourself right in the mix going into the weekend," he said. 

"For a little part of the day there, it seemed like I was going to be a few more behind, but I dug deep and played the last eight holes really, really well.

"That was the goal. After I bogeyed 10, I just wanted to try to shoot under par. 

"I had some chances coming up. Just played a really clean eight holes, which was pleasing. Hit fairways, hit greens, gave myself chances. Got myself right back in the tournament."

Despite being a four-time major champion, it has been nearly eight years since McIlroy's last major crown, and he said he does not think he can rely on those memories for an advantage.

"I think I have to go out with the mindset this week that I'm going to try to win my first again," he said. "I'm playing as good a golf as I've played in a long time. 

"I have a lot of experience. Yes, I've won major championships and other big events, but… just because I've done that, it doesn't mean that I'll hit better golf shots or I'll hit better putts.

"I'm in a good place. I'm really happy with where my game is at, and I think that's the most important thing."

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.

Adam Hadwin ended Thursday as the outright leader following the opening round of the U.S. Open in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The Canadian shot a four-under-par round of 66, one ahead of five players tied for second, including Rory McIlroy, who had been four under himself before bogeying his final hole on the ninth.

Callum Tarren, David Lingmerth, Joel Dahmen and M.J. Daffue sit alongside McIlroy, with seven more players on two under, including Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson.

It was otherwise not a great day for some of the LIV Golf International Series participants, with Phil Mickelson carding an opening round of 78 (seven over), while Louis Oosthuizen managed just one shot better and Sergio Garcia finished on four over.

LIV Golf's new additions Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau ended even par and one over respectively. 

World number one Scottie Scheffler recovered from a wobbly start to finish on even par, while PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas ended the day one under, as did the man he beat in a playoff for that trophy, Will Zalatoris.

Defending champion Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Adam Scott also shot one-under rounds of 69, while world number four Patrick Cantlay came away from Thursday two over.

Shot of the day

After ending up just off the green in the longer grass on the 12th, a precision chip from Matt Fitzpatrick still had a significant distance to travel, but slowly rolled its way straight into the hole to the delight of the Englishman and the Brookline crowd, sending him back to two-under straight after bogeying the 11th.

Player of the day - Adam Hadwin

Hadwin sat on one over after three holes, before birdieing five of the next six to catapult himself into the leading pack. The 34-year-old has never finished higher than T39th in this tournament, and also responded to a bogey at 12 with another immediate birdie at 13, and then ended with five tidy pars to head into day two as the outright leader.

Chipping in

Rory McIlroy: "I'm going into tomorrow with the mindset of 'let's keep it going', rather than 'where is the cut line' or whatever. If you don't get off to a great start, those thoughts start to creep in, 'okay, what do I need to just be here for the weekend?'"

Jon Rahm (asked about two children stealing his ball on the 18th hole): "Yes… I'm pretty sure I know who it was. I recognised the two kids that were running the opposite way with a smile on their face. (Laughing) I am 100 per cent sure I saw the two kids that stole it."

A little birdie told me...

- McIlroy's 67 was the 13th of his career at the U.S. Open, now level with Seve Ballesteros and Sergio Garcia for most by a European player at the tournament.

- Lingmerth, ranked 592nd in the world, has never finished worse than tied for 21st in three previous U.S. Open appearances, and the Swede started with a promising 67 here.

- The first round scoring average of the last 10 winners at the U.S. Open is 69.1, with 25 players hitting under that on Thursday.

Rory McIlroy said he is in a "good spot" mentally after making a strong start to his quest for U.S. Open glory.

The four-time major winner headed to Brookline on the back of a superb victory at the Canadian Open last weekend and opened up with a three-under-par 67, a score that was enough for the co-lead when he finished his round.

McIlroy made a bogey on his final hole to put a slight dampener on things, but the Northern Irishman feels in good spirits as he bids to end an eight-year wait for a major trophy.

"I think [winning the Canadian Open gave me] comfort, more than anything else," said McIlroy, whose triumph in Canada was his 21st on the PGA Tour.

"Knowing my game is in good shape, knowing that when I had to answer the call, make some birdies or do something, I was able to.

"I feel like playing 72 holes in a U.S. Open is playing under pressure the entire time, even though the tournament doesn't really start until the weekend.

"But yeah, [it gave me] comfort with my game, mentally I think I'm in a good spot, and I showed that out there today, just trying to keep myself going.

"Overall, my wedge play was pretty good, I gave myself plenty of chances. Really nice at 17. It was a little skip up the hill, I could see it pitch into the hill and zip back down the green. I hit the putt at seven a little firm, but it was nice after a couple of par saves to see another birdie go in."

Also among the early finishers was defending champion Jon Rahm, who sank a 21-yard putt for birdie on the 18th, ensuring he finished his first round with a one-under 69.

Having endured a frustrating back nine, Rahm spoke of his relief at seeing one drop.

"I played a really good first eight holes besides the bogey on three," he said. "I played really, really solid, and then the wind picked up and it was a bit of a struggle, so to finish with that birdie makes me really confident and it's a really good way to start.

"I didn't see anything go in all day, and to see that one curl in after a wayward tee shot, I got a little lucky, got a great drop and I was able to make that birdie, it's a good feeling to finish like that.

"It got a little difficult out there, I hit a lot of bad iron shots [on] the last 10 holes, so to make that putt felt really good."

Rory McIlroy has always seemed to possess an older head on young shoulders.

Indeed, when the Northern Irishman burst onto the scene in 2009, his success belied his inexperience.

His first major title came at the 2011 U.S. Open, as he finished eight strokes clear of Jason Day at Congressional Country Club in Maryland. Three more followed in the space of three years; two at the US PGA Championship and one at The Open.

It has been eight years since McIlroy claimed a major honour, but heading to The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, the 33-year-old's form is as strong as it has been since he lifted his second US PGA title in 2014.

And in recent months, McIlroy has been seen as one of the voices of reason amid the emergence of the LIV Golf Invitational, which started in London last week.

Charl Schwartzel won the inaugural event of the Saudi Arabia-backed breakaway competition, which has drawn the likes of Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau.

"If it keeps going the way it's going, it's going to fracture the game – sorry, it's going to fracture the game more than it already is," McIlroy, desperate to focus on his own game this week, told Sky Sports on Tuesday.

"The professional world in golf has already been fractured, there's so many different tours, so many different things to follow, and I've always been an advocate of trying to make it more cohesive and try to get people to work together more. This is ripping that apart.

"It's certainly a burden I don't need. But I have pretty strong views on the subject and I don't think it would be right for me to have these strong opinions and not share them."

Perhaps what golf needs more than ever right now is a unifying force that both players and fans can get behind. McIlroy might present just that.

Rory reinvigorated

It has been a brilliant year so far for McIlroy. According to official PGA Tour statistics, he ranks first for scoring average (68.842), top for strokes gained: tee-to-green (1.888) and strokes gained total (2.282), while he also comes in third for driving distance (319.1 metres) and strokes gained off-the-tee (.913) so far this season.

That form has resulted in six top-10 finishes, including his second place at the Masters in April, which came courtesy of a bogey free 64 in the final round, and his victory at the Canadian Open last week.

Defending his Canadian Open crown will have given McIlroy a timely boost heading to Massachusetts, following on from his eighth place at the US PGA Championship last month. He is in fine fettle, but needs to overcome his major hoodoo...

Getting over the line

Four major titles in the space of four years seemed to have paved the way for McIlroy to go on and join the true greats of golf, but it has not quite been that way.

Since winning the U.S. Open in 2011, McIlroy has failed to make the cut on four occasions at this major, though has recorded top-10 finishes in each of the last three editions of the tournament.

His best result at any of the majors since 2014 came at Augusta earlier this year, but as we have seen in other tournaments on the circuit, McIlroy has been known to squander strong positions, and he might even prefer to be in the chasing pack come Sunday.

In January 2021, McIlroy held the 54-hole lead at the Abu Dhabi Championship, but a final-round 72 saw him finish third. He finished five shots back from the winner and it was a similar story at the DP World Tour Championship in December, when he missed the chance to become the first player to win the event for a third time, giving up a last-day lead to finish five behind Collin Morikawa. 

Composure will be key for McIlroy this time around, should he be in contention.

 

A date with fate?

It might just be a coincidence, but fate is a funny old thing, and Sunday will mark 11 years to the day since McIlroy won his first major, when he claimed the U.S. Open so convincingly.

Another iron in McIlroy's fire could be that his win at the Canadian Open moved him onto 21 PGA Tour titles, edging him ahead of LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman. Going on to seal his second U.S. Open triumph, 11 years since he claimed his first, would be a fitting way for McIlroy to prove he is on the right side of this particular divide.

Now, he just has to go out and perform.

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.

Rory McIlroy says the ongoing LIV Golf series saga will serve to "fracture" the sport and the four-time major winner feels many PGA Tour players viewed those joining the Saudi-backed circuit as "selfish". 

The LIV Golf series - headed up by chief executive Greg Norman - has faced immense criticism since it launched, with opponents labelling the new tour as an exercise in "sportswashing". 

That has not stopped several of the game's biggest stars signing up, however, with Bryson DeChambeau calling his own choice to feature on the circuit a "business decision" after joining the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood in competing. 

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

McIlroy has been one of the most open critics of the new series, appearing to taunt Norman after surpassing his tally of 20 PGA Tour victories with his 21st triumph on Sunday, the successful defence of his Canadian Open title.

Before conducting a press conference ahead of the U.S. Open – which begins on Thursday – McIlroy insisted the new venture was only going to widen divides within the sport. 

"If it keeps going the way it's going, it's going to fracture the game – sorry, it's going to fracture the game more than it already is," he told Sky Sports.

"The professional world in golf has already been fractured, there's so many different tours, so many different things to follow.

"I've always been an advocate of trying to make it more cohesive and trying to get people to work together more. This is ripping that apart. 

"If people want to spend money in the game - and it's not regardless of where that money comes from - I think, if the Saudis are hell-bent on spending money in golf, let's get it spent in a way that benefits the wider ecosystem.

"That's where I would like to see it going, but whether that happens or not remains to be seen."

While McIlroy was reluctant to label any player's decision to feature on the new circuit as a "betrayal", he said many of his peers on the PGA Tour did not look upon such choices kindly.

"Betrayal's a very strong word," he said. "It's disappointing, I think the players that have decided to stay on the PGA Tour maybe feel slighted in some way, or feel those guys have been selfish, because it's for personal gain.

"I think in any industry or business, we have to lift each other up and try to make it as best we can for everyone. 

"I think if those guys [the LIV Golf players] thought outside of themselves, they'd see this wasn't best for everyone, that's my point of view on it.

"Everyone has their own goals and their own ambitions and thoughts, and they have to do what they feel is right for themselves."

Having reluctantly emerged as one of the most heralded opponents of the new circuit, McIlroy feels defending the PGA Tour is the right thing to do, considering his strong views.

"It's certainly a burden I don't need," he added. "But I have pretty strong views on the subject, and I don't think it would be right for me to have these strong opinions and not share them.

"I think I'm providing the commentary for a different thought process that is shared by a lot of people, that's the thing.

"I'm put in front of a camera more than most and everyone's here for me all the time about this subject."

Phil Mickelson has expressed his "deepest of sympathy and empathy" for the families of the 9/11 victims amid continued criticism over his decision to join the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

The controversial eight-event Saudi-backed breakaway circuit, which got under way in London last week, has a prize fund of $250million that is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Mickelson and the other American players taking part in the series have been accused by a group representing victims' families and survivors of "sportswashing" – the practice of using sport to improve a tarnished reputation.

Terry Strada, the chair of the 9/11 Families United, said in a statement: "Whether it was the appeal of millions of dollars of hard cash, or just the opportunity to prosecute your professional grievances with the PGA, you have sold us out.

"This is a betrayal not only of us, but of all your countrymen."

Strada cited Saudi Arabia's prominent role in the terror attack 21 years ago, with Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers being Saudi nationals.

In another uncomfortable news conference on Monday ahead of this week's U.S. Open in Massachusetts, Mickelson was asked directly about Strada's comments.

"I would say to the Strada family, I would say to everyone that has lost loved ones, lost friends on 9/11 that I have deep, deep empathy for them. I can't emphasise that enough," he said.

"I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them."

Asked if he intended to respond privately to the letter, Mickelson repeated his earlier answer.

Mickelson and the others to have joined up for the series have also faced criticism from their colleagues, with Rory McIlroy – the winner of last week's Canadian Open – among the more vocal of those to speak out against the LIV Series.

"I certainly respect Rory," Mickelson said. "I thought what a great finish on Sunday and a great accomplishment. What a career he has had. I certainly respect him. I respect his ideas. I respect all the players that choose to stay on the PGA Tour.

"I certainly think extremely highly of many of the players on the PGA Tour and their right to their own decisions.

"I gave as much back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf that I could throughout my 30 years here, and through my accomplishments on the course I've earned a lifetime membership. I intend to keep that and then choose going forward which events to play and not."

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."

Rory McIlroy has reiterated he has no interest in joining the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series and believes decisions made purely based on money "usually doesn't end up going the right way."

Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson this week quit the PGA Tour after agreeing massive paydays to join the breakaway LIV Tour.

Bryson DeChambeau is reportedly set to follow for the second event of the series, which starts in Portland later this month, while Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler are also said to be ready to sign up.

Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood are among the other players who will tee off in the first LIV Tour event at Centurion Golf Club on Thursday.

McIlroy has made it clear he is committed to the PGA Tour and will defend his Canadian Open title this week.

The four-time major champion says he would rather compete against the best players in the world than be tempted by wherever he could maximise his earnings.

"I think my stance on it has been pretty clear from the start. It's not something that I want to participate in," said McIlroy.

"I certainly understand the guys that went and understand what their goals and their ambitions are in their life, and I'm certainly not knocking anyone for going.

"It is their life. It is their decision. They can live it the way they want to, but, for me, I want to play on the PGA Tour against the best players in the world.

"I was speaking to a few people yesterday and one of the comments was any decision that you make in your life that is purely for money usually doesn't end up going the right way.

"Obviously, money is a deciding factor in a lot of things in this world but if it is purely for money, it never seems to go the way you want it to, and I've had that before a couple of times before in my life.

"There are other things that are a part of it too, but it is a weird time in professional golf. I said it a couple of weeks ago, we are just going to have to see how this season plays out, and if any other guys do decide to go another direction than the established tours, see what the consequences are.

"For me right now, I can only speak personally. It is not something I envisage ever doing and I'm happy playing on the PGA Tour. I have a nice schedule, but I can pick for myself.

"I can spend a lot of time at home with my family if I want to, prioritise the majors and there is nothing about my schedule or my life or my earnings or anything that I would change."

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