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Canadians both six shots back of surprise leader in men’s golf at Tokyo Olympics

Canadians both six shots back of surprise leader in men’s golf at Tokyo Olympics
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have spent nearly their whole golfing lives following the same path, so it makes sense they would shoot matching scores in their Olympic debuts.

Both Conners, of Listowel, Ont., and Hughes, of Dundas, Ont., started the Olympic golf competition with matching 2-under 69s. They trail Sepp Straka, the surprisingly first-round leader, by six but are by no means out of the race to the podium.

Straka, ranked 161st in the world, shot an 8-under 63 even though he played just a single 18-hole practice round.

Still, the Austrian was comfortable in the Olympic opener, crediting a recent short-game change as the main key to his sizzling start.

“I hadn’t played great on the PGA Tour the last few weeks, but my putting was really the reason and I just switched up my routine on my putting and it’s worked out,” said Straka. “The putter was pretty hot today.”

Both Canadians had some bright spots in the opening round despite it being delayed by more than two hours due to dangerous weather near Kasumigaseki Country Club.

Conners birdied two of his final six holes, including the par-4 18th, while Hughes made back-to-back birdies on holes 5 and 6 and again on 12 and 13.

The weather delay combined with uncomfortable humidity quashed Hughes’ back-nine momentum and he finished with five-straight pars.

“I was playing quite nicely just before the delay and it’s always tough when it’s this hot to sit around for as long as we did and then get back going again and I just didn’t quite feel the same,” said Hughes. “But overall, it’s a decent start, not ideal, but doesn’t put me out of it.”

Hughes is playing his first event since finished tied for sixth at the Open Championship, the best result by a Canadian-born golfer in that event’s history, and said he’s confident with his game plan for the second round.

“If I can kind of turn a 69 into a 66 or 65 tomorrow then I’m kind of right back in it,” said Hughes.

Conners, buoyed by the support of the staff of his home club in Listowel which trimmed a set of the Olympic rings into the fairway of one of the holes at the course, said, surprisingly, it was his usually solid iron play that let him down in the opening round.

He missed three fairways with a hybrid off the tee, and uncharacteristically was “a little bit off” with his approaches.

Conners said he knows ball striking is a strong part of his game, however, and isn’t worried heading into the next three days of competition. With how soft things were — amplified by the weather delay — Conners said he had some trouble controlling the spin on the greens.

“I felt like I drove the ball really well, just didn’t give myself the opportunities for birdie that I would have liked with the irons,” he said.

Conners is grouped with Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama — the winner of the 2021 Masters — for the first two rounds. Although there aren’t fans on site at the event, there were dozens of onlookers checking on hometown hero Matsuyama. Still, Conners said he wasn’t nervous about the marquee pairing. He has played with Matsuyama before — who he called “really, really nice” — and said he was “thrilled” with the grouping.

Matsuyama finished at 2-under along with the Canadians, and betting favourites Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy, amongst others.

22 hrs ago

If anything, Conners was more amped up on his name getting called on the first tee with first-time Olympian butterflies swirling.

“It was cool getting announced on the first tee and really proud and honoured to represent Canada. Heart was beating a little faster than normal,” said Conners. “It’s definitely a bit strange with no fans but you still feel the prestige of the event and how special it is.”

The Canadian pair also has their wives on site as “personal coaches” this week — a way to skirt some of the Olympics strict COVID-19 restrictions. The Hughes and Conners and their caddies, plus coach Derek Ingram, enjoyed a dinner the night prior to the opening round in a private room in their hotel where golf’s Team Canada donned .

“We decided to throw on the denim jackets, just, I don’t know, just to have some fun with it,” said Conners with a smile. “We’re not going to be able to stick around for the closing ceremonies and get to wear them there, so we figured we would try them out and see how they felt. It was pretty cool.”

Conners tees off at 9:36 p.m. ET for his second round, while Hughes goes at 6:52 p.m. ET. There is no 36-hole cut.

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