The RBC Canadian Open is returning "home" this week.
That is, Canada's national golf championship is being held at Glen Abbey
in Oakville, Ont., its de facto home from 1976 and 2000, and the occasional host since that time.
The Abbey has its share of detractors but it's also a splendid venue to host a sporting event because of its stadium course characteristics and the fine job that Golf Canada does when it conducts the tournament in its own backyard (literally -- Golf Canada is based on the same property).
Given all that, it's also no surprise that some of Canada's most seminal golf moments have taken place on a course that was designed by Jack Nicklaus, even if the game's greatest player was never able to win the tournament during his career, at the Abbey or elsewhere.
There is no better example than what took place in 2000 when Tiger Woods won. At the time, Woods was in possession of three consecutive major championships -- the U.S. and British opens and the PGA Championship -- and turned up at Glen Abbey in part because it gave him an opportunity to match an unofficial record held by Lee Trevino as the only players to hold the three oldest national championships at the same time.
Woods's six-iron-from-the-bunker-over-the-water-to-a-tucked-pin on 18 is one of the most famous shots in the modern era. It gave Woods the title by a single stroke over his playing partner, Grant Waite, who today is Mike Weir's swing coach.
Weir's shining moment at Glen Abbey came four years later, but for different reasons.
Woods was in the midst of swing changes at the time and had been eclipsed by Vijay Singh as the best player in the world. The crowds following Weir, and four years earlier doing the same with Woods and Waite, were as boisterous as seen on the PGA Tour before or since. One tour official I spoke with in 2004 said that he feared for the competitive integrity of the Abbey layout because the crowds following Weir were literally bursting through the barriers.
Sure enough, one fan, imbued with significant amounts of late-summer sauce, thought it would be a good idea to manhandle Weir after he birdied 10, and as he made his way to the 11th green, thinking he was encouraging the Canadian lefty. Weir, clearly rattled, got in trouble off the 11th tee, bogeyed the hole and eventually lost to Singh in a playoff.
Having won seven times in a five-year stretch to that point, highlighted by the 2003 Masters, Weir has won just once since. Many observers point to the heart-breaking loss that day as the turning point from being one of a handful of players chasing Woods (and Singh) to being just a rank-and-file PGA Tour player, albeit one who has won eight times.Tournament loses lustre
Greg Norman's win at the 1984 Canadian Open had the opposite effect on the colourful Australian's career. Besting Nicklaus by two shots, it was Norman's second PGA Tour win after he had won the old Kemper Open a couple of months earlier. That season started Norman's arrival as a star and later one of the few golfers who transcended the sport.
Quirky moments? The Abbey has had its share of those as well, but a few stand out: Ken Green's win in 1988 is remembered for his mocking of then sponsor du Maurier when he couldn't correctly pronounce its name during his victory speech.
Five years before Green's antics, which made him perhaps the only defending champion of any golf tournament not invited back for the following year's media day, Andy Bean showed a similar lack of judgement when he pool-cued his ball into the hole for what he thought was a birdie on 15. Bean wasn't thinking, but the rules officials were, and they assessed Bean a penalty stroke that could have cost him a spot in a playoff that John Cook later won over Johnny Miller. Where's Lefty?
Since those heady days in the 1980s and the occasional ones that followed, the tournament has slowly fallen down golf's pecking order. in many ways the Canadian Open has been dogged by what it's not: it's no longer golf's fifth major, it's the tournament Nicklaus didn't win, and it's the national open with a bad date on the PGA Tour schedule.
All those things are true for sure and, with Phil Mickelson's victory at the British Open
on Sunday, his not being at Glen Abbey this week is another one of those niggling signs that haven't gone away since the PGA Tour's schedule has evolved in the Woods era.
In Mickelson's personal story there is a message as well. Two decades ago he was a rookie pro playing in the 1993 Canadian Open at Glen Abbey. He was adjudged to have taken a bad drop and later disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Details are fuzzy, but more than one source over the years has said that the manner in which Mickelson was DQ'd made it appear as though he was being sent home by the RCGA (now Golf Canada) and not the Tour. As such, it's not unreasonable to say that Lefty left town with something of a bad taste in his mouth.
Mickelson later told the media and tournament volunteers that he "hoped" to return and had no hard feelings for how things turned out.
Things have indeed turned out pretty well for Mickelson. Sunday's win was his fifth major title.
He's been back to the Canadian Open just twice.
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