Buckley shoots 64 to take three-stroke ATB Financial Classic lead

PGA TOUR Canada - Staal Foundation Open presented by Tbaytel
The 18th Green at Whitewater Golf Club in Thunder Bay one of the stops on the 2015 tour

CALGARY, ALTA. — Conditions were tough and low scores were few and far between during the third round of the ATB Financial Open — unless your name is Hayden Buckley.

Firing a 64 that bettered the next-best score by two strokes, the University of Missouri alum made eight birdies to back up two weekday 66s to start the tournament at Country Hills Golf Club.

“The score was more than I could ask for. It was a day where every putt seemed to go in,” said the first-year pro. “The putter saved me. It wasn’t a great ball-striking day by any means.”

Following a bogey on the first hole after a wayward tee shot, Buckley made back-to-back, 12-foot birdie looks on the next two holes to quickly get himself back into red figures for the day.

“With it being cold and windy, it’s always tough, but I managed to find a few more (birdies) on the front,” said Buckley, who made two more, on Nos. 6 and 7, to grab the lead. “No. 8 was definitely my turning point.”

After pulling his drive into the fairway bunker for the second time of the week, Buckley topped his next shot and left it in the bunker.

“I’m sitting there about 115 yards out from the back pin and almost flew it in the hole,” said Buckley, who has four top-10s this season in eight starts. “[The ball] ended up 10 feet away, and I made it for par, so it was close to a double-bogey that could have thrown me off; to make a par and go to the back nine was huge.”

Pushing his tee shot on No. 10, a mammoth par 4 playing into the wind, Buckley managed to hit a 4-iron from 245 yards, playing downhill, to 10 feet, which he again poured in.

“Those were a few strokes that really changed everything,” said Buckley. “It was a grind the rest of the day because the backside is so tough, and I didn’t hit it well enough to make a birdie until the last three holes.”

Making three downhill birdie putts on his final three holes, Buckley separated himself from the field and heads into the final round of an event with the lead for the first time in his Mackenzie Tour career.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had a win,” said Buckley, who was named the University of Missouri Male Athlete of the Year during his 2017-18 school year. “I had a few in college and none since, so it’s been a long time. At the end of the day, it’s about playing a round of golf, and if I win, I win, and if not, I’ll go to the next week and keep trying.”

Currently, in the 10th position on the Order of Merit, a win would likely move Buckley into the fifth position on the Order of Merit, a spot that would earn him Korn Ferry Tour status at year’s end.

“If you don’t finish in the top spots in a tournament you get lapped by a lot of guys,” said the 23-year old. “It’s pretty top-heavy, but I know if I can win here then I can win a lot of places.”

Trailing Buckley is Sam Fidone, at 14-under, while Zach Zaback, at 13-under, will be the third player in the final group Sunday as players will tee off in threesomes in the morning to avoid a forecasted afternoon thundershower. The final group is slated to tee off at 9:20.

Seven Canadians head into the final round within the top 20 on the leaderboard. Taylor Pendrith battled back from two bogeys in his first three holes on Saturday to post an even-par 71 and is the low Canadian, in a tie for fifth.

Pendrith is in search of his fourth consecutive Canada Life Canadian Player of the Week award, while Stuart Macdonald, Wil Bateman, James Love, Wes Heffernan, James Allenby and Riley Wheeldon are all within the top 20.

Key Information

  • In 2018, Zach Zaback had three Mackenzie Tour top-10s and finished in 28th position on the Order of Merit. The 25-year-old has struggled to find the same results this season, sitting in 71st on the Order of Merit. Zaback’s play in Calgary this week will certainly help his cause, firing rounds of 64-69-67 to enter the final round alone in third place.
  • Sam Fidone finished with three birdies in his final five holes Saturday to fire a third-round 68. Fidone is in search of his second career Mackenzie Tour victory after winning the 2018 Bayview Place DCBank Open en route to a sixth-place Order of Merit finish.
  • Aided by a win and a runner-up finish in his last two starts, Lorens Chan has the second-best scoring average on the Mackenzie Tour this season, at 67.3. Outside of Buckley, Chan had the round of the day Saturday, firing 66 to head into the final round alone in fourth place.
  • Currently 51st on the Order of Merit, thanks to a fifth-place finish at the GolfBC Championship, Kyler Dunkle played the four-hole stretch from No. 11-14 in 5-under par on his way to a back-nine 30. The University of Utah alum is currently tied for seventh.
  • Spending the past four years as a CPGA club professional in Calgary, Albert Pistorius feels right at home this week at Country Hills Golf Club, improving by one stroke each day, firing a Saturday 67, thanks to three birdies in his final four holes. Pistorius heads into the final round in a tie for 12th.

Quotable

“I was making some pars on the front and playing conservative and then actually hit it over the green on No. 5, almost parallel to the green on No. 16. But I made a great up and down to give me some confidence.” – Sam Fidone

“It was tough out there. It wasn’t tough for Hayden (Buckley), but it was tough for the rest of us.” – Sam Fidone

“I can tell he is playing well and making some putts. Seven-under is an amazing round. I would take my 68 today 100 percent. I’ve never played with Hayden (Buckley), but I’ve seen him around out here and I know he’s a really good player just out of college. I know he’s a funny guy and both of us are Southern boys.” – Sam Fidone on the 64 Hayden Buckley shot

“I talked to my dad at the beginning of the week about the swing. He made a comment and said ‘Buddy, make a cut first’, and I said ‘Pops, I can win, it doesn’t matter.’ I know I can win, and I’ve been here before if I simply hit it and putt confidently. I’m going to go out there [Sunday] with the same game plan and have a good day.” – Sam Fidone

“It was pretty tough. The greens were a little bit softer from the rain last night and this morning, and it was pretty windy. So, it was about being smart out there and giving myself as many birdie putts as I could. I tried to sneak some in and did a pretty good job of that.” – Lorens Chan 

“I could probably be hitting it a little bit better because I’ve been scraping it around, but the putting feels good and that’s what has really kept me in it this week.” – Lorens Chan 

“Overall, this season has been pretty consistent in terms of shooting decent scores. We still have a few more events, so hopefully, I can keep it up. Entering the season, the goal was to win the money list or finish in the top five to get some (Korn Ferry Tour) status for next year. This year is pretty cool, and it seems like with Jake (Knapp), Paul (Barjon), me and Taylor (Pendrith), every guy has a chance, so I have to keep playing well.” – Lorens Chan 

“Hayden (Buckley) has been playing well this season, and I’ve been seeing his name on leaderboards pretty much every week, so [Sunday] is going to be fun.” – Lorens Chan 

“I felt like I was hitting the ball well all day and was trying to get putts to drop and was forcing the issue, but none of them fell. Then I got to No. 11 and hit my approach to 12 feet, which dropped to give me some confidence. After that, I hit two really good shots on No. 12 and made a five-footer for birdie. On No. 13, I hit an approach to two feet, so it was nice to have a tap-in eagle. It was nice to continue with some good ball-striking but to also make a few putts out there.” – Kyler Dunkle

“The course is definitely showing its teeth. This weather isn’t conducive to low scores; there are some really good pins and the greens are losing some speed, so it was nice to make a move on moving day and get myself in a good spot to maybe make a run.” – Kyler Dunkle

“I felt like, in Kelowna, my ball striking was good, and I made some more putts. As far as where I’m at right now, I feel pretty similar and can get creative with my shots and feel comfortable pulling those shots off.” – Kyler Dunkle on his fifth-place finish at the GolfBC Championship earlier this season.

Third-Round Weather: Overcast. High of 12. Wind 20 KPH.