Conners puts on putting exhibition to grab piece of PGA Championship lead

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Ryan O’Reilly of the Toronto Maple Leafs was in the gallery Friday afternoon with a few childhood pals cheering on Corey Conners at the PGA Championship. Conners, a lifelong Leafs fan, wasn’t aware Kyle Dubas was let go by the team, nor that the Stanley Cup champ was bopping around.

But that’s because he was too busy moving up the leaderboard and into a tie for first place at the second men’s major of the season.

The Canadian shot a 2-under 68 to sit at 5-under through 36 holes and is tied for the lead alongside Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler, the world No. 2, heading into the weekend.

“It’s where I want to be,” Conners told “Certainly will be fun. A lot of Canadian supporters out here and they’re cheering me on, so it feels pretty good.”

Conners has had as good a putting exhibition through 36 holes than at any time this season, as he sits fifth in strokes gained: putting after two rounds. With his rank in that category for the season 134th, it’s no surprise he said putting was the part of his game he’s been most pleased with through two rounds.

Coupled with his usually-spectacular ball striking (he’s ninth in strokes gained: tee to green) and Conners has a piece of the lead after a major round for just the second time in his career.

“Very pleased with the score,” Conners said. “The conditions were tricky out there, faced some wind, some rain. Ended up being reasonably nice the last few holes, but game was solid. Felt like I made a bunch of key putts to keep momentum going, and that was really the key to the day.”

After winning for the second time on the PGA Tour in April, Conners said he gained even more confidence for when he finds himself near a lead. He’s happy to be in this spot heading into the weekend at a tricky golf course — but one that he’s enjoyed playing so far. There’s comfort here, despite it being a major stage.

“I thought it’s a spectacular test of golf,” Conners said of Oak Hill. “Obviously ball-striking is a big strength of mine. I thought that would serve really well.”

This is the kind of round that could have been even better, as Conners missed a six-footer for birdie on No. 10, a seven-footer for birdie on No. 14, and an eight-footer for birdie on No. 1. Still, he’s tied for first at a major and that’s not a bad place to be.

“I think just getting experience in the situation is helpful,” Conners said. “I think winning in Texas a little over a month ago, take a lot from that.

“Lots of confidence in my game, feel good, and having fun out there.”

Conners isn’t, however, the only Canadian enjoying themselves through two rounds at Oak Hill.

Heading into the weekend Taylor Pendrith is tied for eighth, while Adam Svensson is tied for 10th. It’s the first time since 2009 that there are this many Canadians firmly near the top of the leaderboard at a major. Mike Weir, Stephen Ames, and Nick Taylor (then an amateur) made noise at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

There are only nine golfers under par through 36 holes, and two of them are Canadian.

“It’s pretty exciting. Really close with both Taylor and Adam. It’s fun to be part of the group of Canadian golfers right now,” Conners said. “I think whether it’s myself or one of them or the others, someone is making some noise every week. It’s fun to be a part of.”

Pendrith leaned on an all-time putting day to shoot a 1-under 69 in the morning wave. He was first in strokes gained: putting at day’s end.

“Probably the best putting day I’ve had in a long time,” Pendrith said. “Overall super pleased.”

Pendrith has played in two majors prior to this week and said he’s drawn some comparisons between this course and Winged Foot, where he finished tied for 23rd at the U.S. Open in 2020.

Even though Pendrith only hit three fairways on Friday (and five on Thursday, which tracks with his struggles off the tee this season) he managed to have an elite scrambling effort — he’s fourth in the stat through 36 holes — and that impressive putting performance.

“I needed it today. If I had an average or bad putting day, it could have been ugly,” Pendrith admitted with a smile. “Couple nice putts early, some shorter ones, but it just gave me some confidence. I was rolling it well. I rolled it good yesterday and just didn’t make anything. To see a couple go in early was nice.

“I’ve just kind of managed my game well so far.”

Pendrith shot a 1-over 36 for his first nine holes on Friday, with eight pars and just a single bogey on the par-3 15th. He made birdies on Nos. 1 and 3 after making the turn, however, and added the lengthy birdie on the par-3 7th. He bogeyed his final hole of the day but will still take a ton of confidence into the weekend.

“I’d like to say it was stress free-ish, but it was definitely a grind,” Mitch Theoret, Pendrith’s caddie, told with a smile. “He putted really well today. Putted really well yesterday. Those 8-,9-,10-footers that you need, he made them. Every putt he’s been hitting has a chance to go in so it’s really encouraging to see.”

The first round was completed Friday morning (after a two-hour frost delay Thursday morning pushed everything late) and that marked the first time four Canadians were inside the top 20 at the conclusion of any major championship round.

“There’s a bunch of us here this week, which is awesome to see,” Pendrith said of his countrymen. “Feel very comfortable here, but we’re always rooting for each other (and) trying to beat each other. It’s always nice to see a couple of flags on the leaderboard. It’s nice to see so far.”

Adam Hadwin is the other Canadian to make the cut despite a 3-over 73 on Friday. He was steady until making a double bogey on the par-4 6th, playing the toughest hole of the week so far by almost a full shot over par.

Nick Taylor — despite a highlight-reel birdie from 68 feet on Friday — missed the cut after a 6-over 76. This was Taylor’s first event back in action since he and wife Andie had a daughter, Harper, on May 6.

Mackenzie Hughes also missed the cut after shooting back-to-back rounds of 4-over 74.

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