By Peter Mumford
If the final round of the RBC Canadian Open is half as entertaining as the Open Championship last Sunday, we’ll be in for a real treat.
Glen Abbey is totally different than Royal Birkdale, so it’s not likely we’ll see the leader hit his drive 100 yards off line and recover like Jordan Spieth did. At the Abbey, 100 yards off line is lost. However, the course is set up for dramatic finishes and there have been a few over the years.
The field for our Open is set and I can’t think of anybody that will be teeing it up on Thursday that will be more hungry for a victory than American Matt Kuchar. He did all he could to win last week and probably had at least one hand on the Claret Jug before Spieth reeled off that birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie stretch on the back nine to rip Kuchar’s hand off the Jug.
Kooch has been a veritable cash machine over his 17 years on the PGA Tour with lots of top finishes each year to supplement seven victories. However, at the age of 39, it’s not so much the money that is driving him anymore. Kuchar is looking for wins and to have one, especially a major, almost in his grasp last week has to give him added incentive to play well this week, especially on a track he knows so well.
World #1 Dustin Johnson should also be feeling a bit of a burn after his Royal Birkdale adventure and that could be the juice he needs to get going this week. After the US Open in June, DJ took some time off to be with his family following the birth of his second son, River Jones Johnson. He arrived at Birkdale a wee bit rusty and opened with ho hum rounds of 71-72. However, a sparkling 64 on Saturday vaulted him up the leaderboard into the Top 10 and provided at least a chance to catch the leaders. Sunday’s 77 had to be a huge disappointment and hopefully a major kick in the pants for the South Carolinian.
There’s no official stat to show or explain how a player could be abysmal for a stretch, then bounce back the next to win but anecdotally we hear about it all the time. Someone misses seven cuts in a row, then wins a tournament. Canada’s Adam Hadwin could fit that category. After a 71-82 at Royal Birkdale left him free for the weekend, Hadwin had plenty of time to contemplate his next moves.
The 82 on Friday was when the worst of the bad weather hit the English coast so he had something of an excuse but Hadwin had to wonder if something else had hit too since he won the Valspar Championship in March. In his previous six starts leading into the Open Championship, Hadwin was T53-MC-T60-T57-MC-MC and his position on the FedEx Cup rankings is reflecting this.
But Hadwin knows the Glen Abbey course – he finished T7 in 2015 – and he’ll be hot to erase the taste of that 82 last Friday.
Another Canadian with something to prove will be Brantford’s David Hearn. Two years ago he took a two-shot lead into the final round of the RBC Canadian Open but couldn’t hold it and finished third. Coming into this week, Hearn had been playing well through June and early July with three top 15’s. Some even picked him to contend at the John Deere Classic where he had lost in a playoff three years ago. But he missed the cut then and could only muster a T27 last week against a second tier field at the Barbasol Championship. Nevertheless, he’s comfortable at Glen Abbey, has a new swing coach and some new moves and should have lots of “bounce back factor” working for him.
Probably a lot of Canadian golf fans were hoping they’d see young Austin Connelly in the mix again this week after his major debut at Royal Birkdale. He started the final round tied for 3rd and even though a disappointing 73 on Sunday dropped him to T14, it was still an awesome performance by the 20-year old. Connelly, who has dual Canadian / US citizenship, opted not to accept an invitation from the RBC Canadian Open and instead will be staying in Europe to work on securing his European Tour card for next season. If he continues to play like he did at Birkdale that should be a foregone conclusion and we’ll likely to see much more of him at future Canadian Opens too.
One other player that will be looking for some bounce back factor is Ian Poulter. A huge fan favourite at Birkdale, Poults put himself into the mix with four solid rounds but didn’t quite have it when it mattered most. The former Ryder Cup hero and deadly assassin with his putter missed a few key putts that could have put him right with the leaders but left him instead with steam coming out his ears. His ball striking was superb, and the week prior at the Scottish Open too, so if Poulter can find some of his old putting magic, watch out for this Englishman.
Other notables in the field to watch for include some past champions. Defending champion Jhonattan Vegas will be joined by other former champions including Jim Furyk who claimed back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007. Other confirmed past champions include Scott Piercy (2012), Sean O’Hair (2011), Carl Pettersson (2010), Chez Reavie (2008) and Vijay Singh (2004).
In addition to Kuchar, Johnson and Hadwin, the Glen Abbey field will include 2017 PGA Tour winners Cody Gribble, Mackenzie Hughes, Harris English, Hudson Swafford, D.A. Points and Kevin Chappell.
And finally, there will be 17 Canadians in the field looking to break the 63-year old Canadian Open jinx that goes back to Pat Fletcher’s win in 1954. Since that time no home grown talent has been able to duplicate the feat, although Mike Weir came closest, losing a playoff to Vijay Singh in 2004. Weir will be back, along with Hadwin and Hearn, plus the following hopefuls: Graham DeLaet, Weyburn, SK; Mackenzie Hughes, Dundas, ON; Nick Taylor, Abbotsford, BC; Brad Fritsch, Manotick, ON; Jared du Toit, Calgary; Hugo Bernard, Mont St-Hilaire, QC; Austin James, Bath, ON; Garrett Rank, Elmira, ON; Bryn Parry, Vancouver; Matt Hill, Brights Grove, ON; Ryan Williams, Surrey, BC; Riley Wheeldon, Comox, BC; Drew Nesbitt, Shanty Bay, ON; and Daniel Kim of Toronto.
Good luck to all!
Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @FairwaysMag.