McQuillan aims to maintain momentum in Canadian Open

Peter Robinson writes that as much as Mike Weir remains the face of Canadian golf, rookie pro Matt McQuillan is Canada's hottest golfer heading into the Canadian Open at Vancouver.

With Wednesday's whirl of interviews and other themes falling into place for this year's Canadian Open at Shaughnessy, most of the storylines are well worn by now.

Though hardly as good as first forecast, there's an improved field, highlighted by the world's top-ranked player in Luke Donald of England, and the usual questions about the golf course and whether the classic track will be the hero or villain of the piece when the curtain is raised Thursday.

Mike Weir, of course, conducted his annual run-through with the assembled media, sponsors and other functions. And while the Brights Grove, Ont., native is in the midst of an almost two-year long slump, he remains the face of Canadian golf as witnessed by how much his time was in demand from the moment he arrived in Vancouver.

Shaughnessy Notebook

Shaughnessy, located on leased First Nations land, is a much more relaxed club compared to the handful of iconic country clubs that Vancouver is known for. It's also been the scene of some, well, unseemly sights. Almost 30 years ago, golfers found a body dumped not far the 11th green in an area known for wayward balls. The killers, obviously, weren't golfers.

The A.V. Macan masterpiece that is Shaughnessy, located not far from the airport, can be a beast. The design is a favourite for virtually every player who has cared to comment but the rough drew the ire of a few six years ago, and it sounds as though it will again when live bullets begin to fly Thursday. The wet weather in the lower Mainland might create a perfect storm of difficulty because the club seeded many areas extensively. Small greens and tight fairways and landing areas could be make for a caustic brew if the famously fickle West Coast weather kicks up.

Two-time Canadian Open champion Jim Furyk pointed out a competing view. He said that soft fairways and greens could create optimal scoring conditions in much the same way the pros tore apart St. George's last year after many expected similarly tough conditions.   Shaughnessy has hosted the past three Vancouver-based Canadian Opens (1966, 2005, 2011). Crowds were a disappointment six years ago and many observers expect the size of the crowds this week will determine Vancouver's chances of hosting the event again anytime soon.

The tournament returns east next year to Hamilton Golf and Country Club, another highly regarded country club in Ancaster, Ont.

— Peter Robinson

But while Weir plodded all over British Columbia — into the Interior on Monday with a group that included RBC head honcho Gordon Nixon, all over the city on Tuesday and at the course for the pro-am, media and practice on Wednesday — Matt McQuillan quietly rolled into town with one rather curious sounding title: the hottest Canadian on the PGA Tour at the moment.

"Confidence goes a long way and golf is very easy when you have it and it can take a long time to get it back when you don't," McQuillan said of both his early struggles and his better results recently during his rookie PGA Tour season.

The 30-year-old from Kingston, Ont., arrives in Vancouver having posted two good weeks, highlighted by his T3 showing at the John Deere Classic. That performance and the $261,000 US he earned was the best on tour by a Canadian this year.

After a string of 10 missed cuts while working on his swing, McQuillan has posted two 64s and a 65 in his past two tournaments. He eagled the penultimate hole two weeks ago and the final hole last week in Mississippi — a nice $80,000 boon to his bottom line.

"When I first came [on the PGA Tour, I had a real-low draw," McQuillan said of his right-to-left ball trajectory off the tee.

"It worked for a bit. But then, my timing [wasn't very good] and I had to work on having a more left-to-right ball flight."

The effect in pure results for McQuillan is almost $280,000 — that after he showed flashes in his first two tournaments which resulted in just $12,705, despite posting three of eight rounds in the 60s. McQuillan is buoyed by his swing changes, his new sense of self-belief and the course that he and the rest of the field face at Shaughnessy.

"It's a lot like the courses I grew up playing," he said. "Tight and tough, but fair."

Calgary resident Stephen Ames was seventh at Shaughnessy six years ago and also has played well at times this year, nudging up to near the $500,000 mark in earnings.

David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., has been steady, having made 12 of 17 cuts, but needs to play better on the weekends to get himself inside the Top 125 on the money list at season's end. Hearn is currently 129th, nine notches behind Ames, who would be the lone Canadian to retain his full card for next year should those numbers hold up.

Weir has made just two cuts this season and remains in a confounding and troubling slump that extends back to the beginning of last year and has many people asking whether he is finished as a PGA Tour player.

Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., is out after a brief return to action that followed back surgery, and Chris Baryla of Vernon, B.C., has yet to make any impact in his first full season on tour.

As for the other 11 Canadians not considered regular tour members, the most intriguing story is likely Adam Hadwin of nearby Abbotsford, B.C. Last year's low Canadian at St. George's in Toronto took his turn with the media Tuesday and remains an intriguing prospect. He has played well at times this year on the Canadian Tour — winning early on at a co-sanctioned event in Colombia — but he's been a bit inconsistent as well.

Calgary's Dustin Risdon and Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., are the top two homebrews on the Canadian Tour and could bear watching. Risdon landed himself in hot water last year with PGA Tour brass when he was arrested for being drunk in public at a Nationwide Tour event in Tennessee. He then shut down his 2010 season to get a torn labrum fixed. Left without status on the Nationwide Tour, he returned to Canada and has been one of its best players without winning.

Sloan has been one better than that, winning in Kamloops, B.C., near his hometown earlier this year, and is currently fourth on the Canadian Tour order of merit — one spot higher than Risdon.

Former amateur stars Matt Hill of Brights Grove and Nick Taylor of Abbotsford are also in action, but have not played particularly well on the Canadian Tour so far this year.

Another possibility is Monday qualifier Brad Fritsch. The former Nationwide Tour pro from Manotick, Ont., has a few Canadian Opens under his belt and has showed well at times this year on the Canadian Tour.