Last week in Southport, England, Jordan Spieth found a way to turn an inevitable three-stroke victory into an unfathomable nail-biting epic. With his resilient take down of professional golf’s best field at The Open Championship, Spieth re-claimed his status among the sports public as bar-none, the best golfer in the game.
It was another brilliant major championship put on by the R&A who, despite lower than expected scores (especially in round three), gets nothing but the highest marks for their work at Royal Birkdale.
While the world of sports eagerly awaits next month’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Golf Club, attention will first shift to the Great White North, as the PGA’s longest continuously running non-major, the RBC Canadian Open, tees off this week in Ontario, Canada.
One year after it boasted one of the best finishes of the PGA Tour season, Glen Abbey Golf Club is again the host of one of the most festive events of the year, as droves of golf-hungry fans shuttle to a gigantic week-long party, and prove that hockey is not the only sport Canada does well.
The field might not be quite what it was last week in the U.K., but what it is lacking in top-end talent (although world No. 1 Dustin Johnson will be there) it more than makes up for in national pride and fierce, unrelenting competition.
This is a field surfeited with players trying to put themselves in the best possible position for the upcoming FedEx Cup playoffs. The differences between the final leaderboard positions could be career-altering, meaning everybody is going to be leaving their best stuff on the course.
One of the longer-running traditions on Tour, the Canadian Open was started in 1904 at the Royal Montreal Golf Club in Dorval, Quebec. That inaugural tournament was won by an Englishman by the name of Jack Oke, who shot 16-over-par.
Canadian-born players won seven of the first ten Canadian Opens, but since World War I, only one man from Canada, Pat Fletcher in 1954, has won. Americans have won 72 of the Opens, with the next closest being England and Australia with eight wins apiece.
A tournament that was long considered a fifth major, the Canadian Open annually drew elite fields until it was moved on the 1988 schedule. Now held the week after the Open Championship, the strength of its fields has dropped off significantly.
Notable winners include Tommy Armour, Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Bobby Locke, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Nick Price, Tiger Woods, and Vijay Singh.
American Leo Diegel holds the tournament record for victories, recording four in a six year span from 1924 to 1929.
The Canadian Open has traditionally rotated between courses, but Glen Abbey Golf Course has been the most common location, as the 2017 edition will mark its 28th time as host.
Jack Nicklaus designed the course with the idea that it would be a permanent tournament home. Nicklaus never won the event, but did finish runner-up seven times.
One of the best features of Glen Abbey is the inclusion of three par-fives in the final six holes (13, 16 and 18), and two of them in the closing-three, which makes the tournament a magnet for intense final-round drama. A late deficit can be made up very quickly here.
Name: Glen Abbey Golf Course
Where: Oakville, Ontario
Distance: 7,253 yards, par 72
Architect: Jack Nicklaus
Winning Share: $1,080,000
FedEx Cup Points: 500
The defending champion of the RBC Canadian Open is Jhonattan Vegas. A tight battle on the back nine eschewed a playoff when Vegas birdied the last three holes to post a final round 8-under 64, one stroke better than Dustin Johnson, Martin Laird, and Jon Rahm, and two strokes better than a group of four other players.
Vegas started the day in a tie for 15th, but lunged up the leaderboard early when he carded birdies on holes 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. The victory put an end to a five-year winless drought for the then 31-year-old Venezuelan Vegas.
2016: Jhonattan Vegas
2015: Jason Day
2014: Tim Clark
2013: Brandt Snedeker
2012: Scott Piercy
2011: Sean O’Hair
Lowest Final Score: 263 (Johnny Palmer 1952, Scott Piercy 2012, Tim Clark 2014)
Lowest Final Score (Glen Abbey): 266 (Tiger Woods 2000)
Low Round: 60 (Carl Pettersson 2010)
Round 1: 3-6:00 PM (Golf Channel)
Round 2: 3-6:00 PM (Golf Channel)
Round 3: 1-2:30 PM (Golf Channel); 3-6:00 PM (CBS)
Round 4: 1-2:30 PM (Golf Channel); 3-6:00 PM (CBS)
Storyline 1: Vegas Defends
The exciting, come-from-behind victory by Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas at last year’s RBC Canadian Open was a much-needed rejuvenating shot in the arm to his stagnant career.
The University of Texas product got his PGA Tour career off to an incredible start in 2011 when, in just his second start as a Tour member, he won Bob Hope Classic, defeating Bill Haas and Gary Woodland in a playoff.
Vegas followed up his maiden victory with an impressive T3 finish at the Farmer’s Insurance Classic, tying Dustin Johnson and falling behind only Phil Mickelson and tournament champion Bubba Watson.
Those were the best results of his rookie season, but he had a respectable first year overall, with the victory, three top 10s, 18 made cuts in 25 events, and a 54th place finish in the FedEx Cup Standings. It was thought to be just the beginning for Vegas as a PGA Tour threat.
Strangely, however, Vegas’ career trajectory took a precipitous dip south. In 2012, he also played 25 events, but missed the cut in 12 of them and made less than half as much in earnings as he had in 2011. His 2013 season was truncated to just three starts after shoulder surgery.
Then, between 2014 and 2015, Vegas started 50 events with no wins, just two top 10s, and just barely over a million in earnings.
Vegas was starting to play much better again in 2016, but was extremely inconsistent. He then had the highlight round of his season when he shot a 60 in the second round of the Barbasol Championship, the tournament opposite the Open Championship. He struggled over the weekend and ended up finishing T4, but he clearly found something there as he went on to snap his five-year winless drought the very next week at the Canadian Open.
The two-year Tour exemption maybe saved his career. From there, he had four top 25s in his last five starts of the season, and played well enough to make the Tour Championship.
Unfortunately, in the follow-up season to the career year, Vegas has ostensibly been two different golfers. In his first 12 starts of the 2016 season, Vegas missed just one cut, at the season-opening Safeway Classic. During that 12-start stretch, he finished in the top 25 five times, with a high of T4 at the Honda Classic.
It was not the best stretch of his career, but he looked a lot more like late-2016 Vegas than the struggling 2015 one.
However, since The Masters in April, his season has disintegrated into a boiling cesspool of bad shots and missed cuts. In his last ten starts, beginning with a 78-76 disaster at The Masters, Vegas has eight missed cuts, a T34 and a T35. None of his last five starts have led to weekend play, including an abysmal +11 effort at this past weekend’s Open Championship.
The biggest culprit behind his struggles has been his terrible putting. Since last season, Vegas has plummeted from 77th on Tour in strokes gained: putting to his current position of 185th.
Vegas’s game again desperately needs to be revitalized. Glen Abbey proved to be the cure last time, and he will be hoping that the good vibes from his last win will lead to confidence that he can make lightning strike again north of the border.
Storyline 2: Open Championship Responses
The Canadian Open occurs the week after one of the most exhausting golf experiences of the year, the Open Championship. Twenty-two players who spent last week in a pressure-cooker environment five time zones to the east are forgoing rest and recovery, and trying to keep momentum going and fine-tune their games in Canada.
It will be a considerable challenge, but at this hectic point in the season, it is one that many consider to be necessary. Here are a few of the more notable Open participants in this week’s field:
The world #1 had an up-and-down week in England, especially on the weekend where he followed up a tremendous Saturday 64 with a shockingly disappointing field-low 77 on Sunday, which resulted in a T54 finish.
DJ is a three-time winner this season, but has found it difficult to stay consistent since pulling out of The Masters after a freak back injury. After a short recovery time, he had a respectable T2-T12-T13 stretch, but then missed the cut at both The Memorial and the U.S. Open, his final two events prior to his Open Championship appearance.
Suddenly, a blip on his season has become a trend. His biggest struggle in England was with his approach game, as he hit just 33 of 72 (45.8%) greens for the week, with 14 of those coming in his third round 64.
It is a startling development for the man who leads the PGA Tour in greens in regulation, where he hits greens at a 72.2% clip. As a runner-up at last year’s Canadian Open, DJ appears comfortable at Glen Abbey, but he will be coming off a much different week than he last year when he finished T9 at The Open.
Open Champion Jordan Spieth remarked that Sunday took as much out of him as any day he has ever played. While Spieth is getting some much-deserved rest this week, Open runner-up Matt Kuchar, the man who played with Spieth in both weekend rounds, and valiantly battled him to the end will be at Glen Abbey this week.
The 39-year-old will not only have to battle Open fatigue, but he has the challenge of keeping his game afloat after falling short again in his most recent quest for major championship victory No. 1.
Kuchar’s 9-under performance at Southport was his best of the season and caps off an impressive five-week stretch with finishes of T9, T12, T4, T16, 2.
A regular event on his schedule, Kuchar has finished in the top 10 in each of the past four Canadian Opens, with a high finish of T2 in 2013. However, he has yet to attempt this tournament after a week in major contention, and it would not be surprising if he found this week to be a little tougher than he remembers.
While the 41-year-old Englishman’s weekend did not go as well as he had hoped it would, Poulter was relevant in a major for the first time in years after an impressive 67-70 start at The Open Championship.
It was the most recent success in a big bounce-back season for Poulter, as the Ryder Cup wizard has risen from 184th in the world to his current position of 71st.
Poulter was down on himself after an underwhelming 71-70 weekend resulted in a T14 finish, but he is playing his best golf in a long time, and he should be motivated to keep his good form going in Canada, which will be his event debut.
Storyline 3: Is it Canada’s Time?
In 1954, Canada native Pat Fletcher cruised to a four-shot victory in Vancouver, causing a massive celebration among the locals, who just saw one of their own take the Canadian Open for the first time in 40 years.
Fletcher’s win, now 63 years ago, was the last time a Canadian won the Canadian Open. It really is a shame, because this is not just another golf tournament to Canada. Their Open is a weeklong celebration of everything that Canadians love about the land they call ‘home’.
It is one of the most intense and festive crowds seen anywhere on the PGA Tour. It has been a long, agonizing six-plus decades for fans who have been waiting patiently, as Canadians are often rumored to do, for the next native winner of this tournament.
There have been a few close calls in recent years. Former Masters Champion Mike Weir made it into a playoff with Vijay Singh in the 2004 edition, but fell just short in those extra holes.
In 2015, David Hearn held a lead as late as the 16th hole on Sunday, but could not hold off a Jason Day surge in the closing holes.
Then last year, Jared du Toit, a 21-year-old amateur, played well beyond his years, reaching -8 through three rounds and earning a spot in the final pairing on Sunday. He was unable to keep the magic going in day four, but he did manage to give an entire country incredible optimism about future Opens.
Here are some of the notable Canadians in the field hoping to snap the 63-year winless drought:
Jared du Toit
The 21-year-old amateur who captivated the cheerful crowds last year on his way to a T9 finish is back again this year.
Du Toit turned professional less than two months ago after completing his senior season at Arizona State University, a program that has produced stars like Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, and Paul Casey. He has played in five MacKenzie Tour events this season, earning just over $12,000.
The 29-year-old from Winnipeg won the 2015 Sanderson Farms Champions, but 2017 has been his best year on the PGA Tour with 8 finishes inside the top 25 and four top 10s in 25 events, including a T9 at the recent Greenbrier Open.
Since the end of 2016, Taylor has risen from #404 in the world rankings all the way to his current position of #194.
One of the most experienced Canadian players in the field, the 35-year-old from Saskatchewan is still looking for his first PGA Tour victory, and there would not be a more perfect place from him to capture it than in this tournament.
DeLaet has five top 10s this season, including a T10 at the recent Memorial Tournament, one of the toughest fields on Tour among non-majors. He has only made the weekend once in his last four attempts, but that made cut (in 2014) led to a T7 finish.
The 38-year-old who came so close to ending the Canadian win drought in 2015 has been in good form as of late, finishing T14 or better in three of his last six starts.
The 26-year-old PGA Tour rookie from Hamilton won the RSM Classic back in November when he opened with a round of 61.
He also had good finishes at two difficult events: a T10 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and a T16 at THE PLAYERS Championship. Hughes ranks 8th on Tour in strokes gained: putting.
Far and away the Canadian MVP of the current season, Hadwin won the Valspar Championship in March, and joined the exclusive “59 Club” during the third round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, a tournament where he finished runner-up.
Unfortunately, the 29-year-old has fallen off tremendously from his early season form, not finishing better than T30 since April, but he is the world’s highest-ranked Canadian, currently at world #55.
Other Notables In the Field
Furyk is the only man to have successfully defended a Canadian Open title since 1951, taking the 2007 title by one stroke over Vijay Singh, one year after a one-stroke victory over Bart Bryant.
The 47-year-old might not be in peak form this year (just one top 10 in 16 starts), but he has a tremendous history in this tournament. In addition to his two victories, he also finished 4th in 2015, runner up in 2014, and T9 in 2013. He
The 2013 Canadian Open winner is expected to play despite being a late withdraw from last week’s Open Championship with a rib injury. Snedeker was the 54 hole-leader at Glen Abbey last year, but finished T5 after a final round 71.
The eight-time PGA Tour winner is in good form as of late, finishing in the top 15 in three of his last five events.
The 39-year-old looked like a near lock to at least force a playoff when he was -12 with three holes to go, and two par-5s upcoming, but he finished par-bogey-bogey and sent a bunker shot on the par-5 18th sailing over the green and into a water hazard.
He has struggled in 2017, but did finish T15 at least week’s Barbasol Championship.
The 25-year-old rookie is #70 in the FedEx Cup standings, despite only playing in seven events so far this season. The former up-and-comer has had his early PGA career derailed by injuries and personal tragedy, but has played very well in limited appearances.
He has played just once in the last two-and-a-half months, however.
The 40-year-old San Diego native has been all over leaderboards this year, getting into the early mix at all three majors so far.
Since March, Hoffman has four finishes of eighth or better, with a best result of T2 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He most recently played the Canadian Open in 2015, finishing T7 at Glen Abbey.