World's best impressed by Canadian Open venue
Over 7,600 kilometres and several times zones separate Sandwich, England, from Vancouver, but for Luke Donald the long journey was worth it to play a course like the Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club.
Donald, the world's No. 1-ranked golfer, failed to make the cut at last week's British Open, but says he's excited about the challenge presented by this week's RBC Canadian open.
"It's a very good, classic golf course," Donald said Wednesday after playing a Pro-Am event.
"It meanders through the trees. The rough is extremely thick, probably the thickest we played all year. I'd say it's even thicker than the U.S. Open. The greens are very small . . . but the premium this week will be keeping it in play."
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel was surprised at how long the 7,010-yard course played.
"It's been a long time since I've had that many yardages of 200 and over into a lot of these holes, and the ball is going short," said the 26-year-old from Johannesburg, South Africa. "I thought that it played really long today."
Donald, Schwartzel and defending champion Carl Pettersson will be in the field of 156 that tees of Thursday in the first round of the 72-hole tournament. They will be playing for a total prize purse of $5.2 million US, with the winner taking home $918,000.
The Canadian Open is the third oldest national open golf championship in the world. This year's event will be played on a 53-year-old course where golfers can catch glimpses of ships on the Pacific Ocean through breaks along the tree-lined fairways.
The thick rough and small greens put a premium on shotmaking and penalize sloppy play.
"You have to drive your ball well to have a chance to hit the small green," said Rickie Fowler, the 22-year-old from Anaheim, Calif., who tied for fifth at the British Open.
"I think the biggest part of the week is whoever is driving the best is going to have probably one of the best opportunities to win."
With his bright green hat turned backwards on his shaggy blond hair, Fowler looked like someone heading to nearby Kits Beach. He showed no ill effects from a long trip and short break between tournaments.
"This is about as far as you're going to get travelling wise, from England all the way to Vancouver," he said. "The charter definitely helps out with getting guys here.
"I think tough courses draw better players. I like playing tough courses. Not that I have a better chance to win or be in contention, but I just like playing challenging golf courses."
The tournament being scheduled on the heels of the British Open resulted in some players deciding to skip the chance to sip Canadian beer and eat West Coast salmon. Still, the field includes six of the top 30 in the tour's FedEx Cup standings.
Other big names include Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Geoff Ogilviy and Paul Casey.
No Canadian has won the tournament since Pat Fletcher earned $3,000 for winning the title back in 1954. Among the 17 Canadians hoping to end that drought will be former Masters champion Mike Weir of Bright's Grove, Ont., Stephen Ames of Calgary, David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., Matt McQuillan of Kingston, Ont., and Chris Baryla of Vernon, B.C.
In an effort to attract players, Golf Canada arranged a charter flight for the trip from England to Vancouver.
"They make it as easy as they possibly can," said Casey. "The bags are right there, they get the customs guys right there, they make it easy for everybody.
"I say, 'Why not?' If you've got to fly all the way back to North America anyway, why wouldn't you go on a big charter with everybody and then go play a golf event the week after? To me, it kind of makes sense."
Schwartzel said getting used to the time change isn't as hard as adjusting your game after facing the gusting winds and rain at the British Open.
"The biggest adjustment for me is to find my golf swing again," he laughed.
Tournament organizers are crossing their fingers the cold temperatures and rain that has hounded Vancouver won't affect play.
There were dark, threatening clouds Wednesday, but no rain. The forecast for the rest of the week is for sun and temperatures of around 21 degrees.
Donald's early exit from the British Open allowed him to fly back to the U.S. early, where he spent time with his family in Chicago.
"The lifestyle that we lead is a busy one," said the 33-year-old, who was born in England. "The worst part about it, and the most unglamorous side, is the travelling.
"We're on the road 30-plus weeks a year and it's tough. It makes you really appreciate being at home. But I certainly wouldn't give it up for anything."
The last time the Canadian Open was held at Shaughnessy was 2005. Mark Calcavecchia won that year with a score of 5-under 275.
After having his first look at the course, Schwartzel doubts there will be many low scores.
"I don't think it's going to be very much under par," he said. "Maybe around six or 7-under, something like that."