Nobody likes to follow-up something spectacular, but that is the unenviable position the RBC Canadian Open is in this week, taking place at Glen Abbey Golf Course in Ontario just one week after an absolutely unforgettable Open Championship in Scotland.
Fortunately, the Canadian Open has more than held its own with its fair share of thrilling finishes in recent years, and the event committee has somehow kept the event fresh and novel, despite being the Tour’s longest continuously running non-major, with the inaugural tournament teeing off in 1904.
What helps more than anything is a passionate Canadian crowd, a group that treats Canadian Open week as a giant week-long festival.
As Canada’s gift to professional golf gets ready to commence on Thursday, here are some of the storylines that are worth some extra attention:
1. JON VEGAS SEEKS THREE IN CANADA
The seven-year PGA Tour career of Colombian-born Jhonattan Vegas has been very up-and-down. It has also yielded three victories. In just the second event of his 2011 rookie season, Vegas came out front at the Bob Hope Classic. His other two victories? The 2016 and 2017 RBC Canadian Opens.
Something about Glen Abby seems to suit Vegas’ eye. In 2016, Vegas birdied five consecutive holes on his Sunday front nine, and then added four more on 13, 16, 17, and 18 to vault past a loaded leaderboard that included Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, and Brandt Snedeker.
In 2017, he again got on the Sunday birdie train, carding five on the front nine and three on the back to reach a playoff with Charley Hoffman. On the first playoff hole, the par-5 18th, Vegas pulled off an unreal 2nd shot out of a bunker, somehow reaching the green despite hitting the lip on the way out. A second playoff hole was not needed.
One thing those two victories had in common is that Vegas was not coming into the week in good form. Now, as the two-time defending champion, Vegas again has not had his best stuff outside of Canada. The 33-year-old has just one top-10 in 21 events, and that was in early January in a 32-man event. He missed his last two cuts, including at last week’s Open Championship, and in his past 11 starts, he has no finishes better than T40. He will really need to play off that Glen Abbey confidence this week.
As a man who has basically been given the status of “Honorary Canadian”, Vegas shares a mutual love with the large Canadian crowd, and should enjoy their backing this week. If he lands on the top of the Sunday leaderboard, he will become the first player on Tour since 2011 (Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic) to win a single event in three consecutive years.
2. BASH BROTHERS UP NORTH
A very nice surprise for a post-major event, the RBC Canadian Open field includes two of the top 5 in the world rankings: No. 1 Dustin Johnson and No. 4 Brooks Koepka. The two bombers, who have forged a tight bond over the past two years have been affectionately referred to as the “Bash Brothers”.
They represent the last three winners of the U.S. Open (DJ in 2016, Koepka in 2017 and 2018), and they will likely remain the betting favorites when the event begins.
As good as they are, and as great as they have been this year, both disappointed at last week’s Open Championship. DJ came into Carnoustie off three consecutive top 10s, including a win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, the 18th victory of his career, but did not even make the weekend in Scotland, butchering the historic 18th hole in the first two rounds (triple bogey, double bogey) and at 6-over, he missed the cut by two shots.
Koepka started even worse, reaching 4-over through 8 holes on Thursday, but a back-nine birdie binge got him to 1-over, and a second round 69 had him just five strokes off the lead going into the weekend. However, a third round 75 when many of the leaders were going low dug too deep a hole, and he ended up finishing T39.
Regardless, both remain excellent bets for this week. DJ was runner-up at Glen Abbey in both 2013 and 2016, and added a T8 last year. He is the Tour’s current leader in strokes gained: off-the-tee, strokes gained: tee-to-green (the only player ahead of Francesco Molinari), birdie average, and scoring average. He has eight top 10s on the season in just 13 starts and currently leads the FedExCup Standings.
Koepka meanwhile, missed several months of the season with a wrist injury, but has been largely spectacular since returning, with the U.S. Open victory and a runner-up at the Fort Worth Invitational. In his one Canadian Open appearance, three years ago, Koepka opened with three consecutive 68s to get into contention, before a difficult final round dropped him to 18th. It seems unlikely that either will be out of the mix this week.
3. THE CANADIAN CONTINGENT AT GLEN ABBEY
Given the location, the RBC Canadian Open annually acts as something of an exhibition to the world’s best Canadian-born golfers. Every Canuck that qualifies for the field does not think twice about entering, and many others end up in the field on sponsor’s invites.
In recent years there have been about 20 per event, and they get the entire backing of the crowd. An extremely jovial atmosphere when the Canadian players are not doing well, the crowd goes absolutely wild when one is in contention. Unfortunately, Canada is on a 64-year winless drought for their national open, with the last winner being Pat Fletcher in 1954. There have been some close calls recently, with Mike Weir’s playoff loss to Vijay Singh in 2004 the closest.
In 2018, there again will be a heavy volume of Canadian-born golfers hoping to break the trend. One problem though: they are not an exceptional group. Here are the ones who likely stand the best chances of putting Canada back in the winner’s circle.
For the second consecutive year, Canada’s best chance lays on the shoulders of the diminutive Adam Hadwin, a 30-year-old from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. At No. 55 in the world, Hadwin is the only Canadian golfer in the top 200 of the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR), and is the only one in this field who ranks in the top 250 (No, 218 Graham DeLaet and his envy-inducing beard are sitting out due to injury).
Hadwin has a proclivity for being exceptionally streaky, something that is again reflected this season, although he has been MUCH more consistent from a made cuts perspective, missing just one weekend in 20 starts this season. He has not finished in the top 10 since a T9 at the WGC-Mexico Championship in early March.
A short, accurate hitter who excels on the greens, Hadwin is not a great fit at a Glen Abbey course that rewards bombers. He did manage a T7 in 2015, but has struggled in his past two attempts, missing the cut last year, and finishing T49 the year prior.
The 27-year-old Hughes from Hamilton won the fifth event of his 2017 rookie season (RSM Classic), and had an impressive T10 at Pebble Beach a few months later, but has had few highlights since.
His sophomore campaign got off to a nightmare start, with Hughes missing his first 8 cuts, and in his first 22 events of the 2018 season, he missed 16 cuts and had no finishes inside the top 40. However, he has shown some life over his past three starts, going T13-T16 in back-to-back events before a T60 at last week’s opposite-field Barbasol Championship.
A solo-third place finish at the 2015 Canadian Open was one of Canada’s closest calls in recent events, with Hearn holding a lead as late as the 16th hole on Sunday before getting mowed down by Jason Day and Bubba Watson.
He has missed the cut in his past two attempts and like Hughes, he is struggling to make weekends this season, with just 9 made cuts in 18 2018 starts. He contended early at the John Deere Classic last month after a 66-64 start, but a 70-70 finish faded him to a T16. His only top 10 on the season was a T10 at the Zurich Classic, a team event he entered with Ireland’s Seamus Power.
One of Canada’s best future bets, the 21-year-old Connelly burst onto the world golf scene when he was a surprise contender at last year’s Open Championship, sitting in third place through three rounds before finishing T14.
Playing on the European Tour this season, Connelly has mostly struggled, with just three top 30 finishes in 17 starts, with a best result of T11 at the Rocco Forte Sicilian Open.
JARED du TOIT
Two years ago, the then 21-year-old du Toit came out of nowhere to make the final Sunday pairing at Glen Abbey as an amateur before dropping into a tie for ninth on Sunday. Given how great he looked in that start, it seems shocking now that he is ranked 1465th in the World.
He plays on Canada’s MacKenzie Tour now, and will be making his third Canadian Open start this week after missing the cut in last year’s edition.
4. THE CARNOUSTIE HANGOVER
The RBC Canadian Open features 33 players who teed up last week at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland for the 2018 edition of The Open Championship. Typically, a lot of those players do well in the Canadian Open, which makes sense given that they were a high enough caliber to make the year’s third major in the first place.
However, we have seen time and time again on the PGA Tour that a major championship is physically exhausting and mentally draining. Those who were a part of the leaderboard story feel it the most, and as a result, it is worth considering how playing Carnoustie will affect those who contended last week.
The best finisher at Carnoustie that is in the Canadian Open field is World No. 25 Kevin Kisner. The 34-year-old made another push at a first career major, and looked excellent early, taking the solo lead after 18 holes, and was in the co-lead after 36 and 54 holes.
Tremendous putting was the biggest credit to getting him in the penultimate Sunday pairing, but his flat stick, along with most everything else, succumbed to major pressure in the final round, as an early double bogey-bogey stretch knocked him off the pace. Kisner did well to compose himself and get back into contention, even holding the co-lead late on the back nine, but after closing with four straight pars while Molinari was making birdies, Kisner settled for a runner-up finish.
This will be his first start at Glen Abbey since a T26 two years ago. He will be hoping that his return to good form after a recent slump will supercede his Open fatigue.
With a T9 finish at Carnoustie, the long-hitting Finau became the only man to finish in the top 10 of all three 2018 majors so far. A 67 had him on the leaderboard early, but three straight even par rounds, while impressive given the circumstances, was not enough to get him his first career major.
That Thursday 67 included eight birdies, showing what we already knew about Finau: he can score, and those who can score at Glen Abbey are the ones who stay in contention until the end. FInau finished T5 in last year’s Canadian Open.
A surprise name in the Canadian Open field, World No. 11 Tommy Fleetwood is making his Glen Abbey debut, just one week after getting into contention for the second straight major. A GIR dynamo, the European Tour star led the Carnoustie field in greens hit.
After a second-round 65 propelled Fleetwood to just barely off the Open lead, but he was not able to keep the momentum going over the weekend at a venue where he holds the course record. Fleetwood’s 71-73 weekend meant a T12 finish.
The normally-steady Kuchar had not been in his best form coming into Carnoustie, but for the second straight Open, he found a way to contend. He did not take runner-up like he did in 2017, but three rounds under par was good enough to sneak into the top 10 (T9).
A T32 at last year’s Canadian Open, played just days after what Kuchar called the most exhausted he had ever been in a golf tournament, snapped a streak of four consecutive years inside the top 10, so he appears to be comfortable at Glen Abbey.
Hoffman fell just short of his fifth career victory when he took Jhonattan Vegas to a playoff at last year’s Canadian Open, but could not quite shake the Colombian on the first extra hole. At Carnoustie, Hoffman did what we have become accustomed to seeing from him at majors: he got into the mix early, but struggled late.
This time, four bogeys over his first 8 holes on Sunday prevented the push he needed, and he finished in a tie for 17th place.
5. FEDEXCUP PLAYOFF BUBBLE
With just four weeks left before the FedExCup Playoffs begin, many players in the field are desperate to accumulate more FedExCup points before the top 125 get a spot in the first playoff round, not to mention other benefits, such as securing a PGA Tour card for next season.
Tom Lovelady tees off during the 3rd round of the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, NC. Credit: William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Coming into the RBC Canadian Open, here are the players on the playoff bubble:
FEDEXCUP STANDINGS: 121-130
121. William McGirt (1,654) +6
122. Sam Saunders (1,654) +6
123. Jhonattan Vegas (1,656) +4
124. Danny Lee (1,658) +2
125. Tyrone Van Aswegen (1,660)
126. Corey Conners (1,669) -9
127. Nick Taylor (1,677) -17
128. Tom Lovelady (1,686) -26
129. Lucas Glover (1,689) -29
130. Harris English (1,691) -31
Coincidentally, the first two players projected out are Canadian-born golfers in the field for this week’s Canadian Open.
Other notables south of the 125 who are hoping to make up ground at Glen Abbey include Sergio Garcia (132), Aaron Baddeley (134), Ben Crane (140), Steve Stricker (141), and Bill Haas (143). With so many quality names currently on the bubble, this will be an exciting race worth close examination over the next four weeks.