Blanks atop crowded Canadian Open leaderboard
Being cautious was the ticket to the top of the leaderboard during Thursday's opening round of the RBC Canadian Open.
Kris Blanks kept it simple on the challenging Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club course and was rewarded with a 3-under-par 67 Thursday for the lead.
In a group of 11 players chasing the Jupiter, Fla., native was Canadian Matt McQuillan who was one stroke back at 2 under.
The deep, unforgiving rough at Shaughnessy gobbled up shots not landing on the fairway. Less was often better when selecting a club. It was better to give up some distance than to launch a rocket that crashed into the deep, thick grass.
"The course is playing really difficult if you get off the fairway," said Blanks, 39, whose best PGA Tour finish was a tie for 10th earlier this year at the Crowne Plaza Invitational.
"It's very penal. It's a lot more advantageous to hit a longer club from the fairway then hacking out of the rough."
McQuillan, playing in his first Canadian Open, had a chance to move into a tie for the lead. He came up just short on a 20-foot putt on the 18th hole.
"I'm thrilled with today," said the Kingston, Ont., native, who tied for third at the John Deere Classic earlier this year.
"I was very nervous. I have a lot of family and friends out there supporting me."
No Canadian has won the tournament since Pat Fletcher earned $3,000 for winning the title back in 1954.
McQuillan, a 29-year-old Tour rookie, said the tree-lined fairways on the 7,010-yard Shaughnessy course leaves little room for error.
"As you guys can see, the players shoes disappear pretty quick," he said. "As long as you get it on the fairway, you get a chance to get it up near the green. But if you miss the fairways off the tee, you have no chance. You are chipping out."
McQuillan is making his 14th start of the season but has made just three cuts.
"I made the fatal flaw early in the year, I started to change my swing," he said. "I knew I was working on the right things.
"It finally clicked at the John Deere and it's feeling pretty good right now. I'm just going to try keeping it in the short grass the next three days and hopefully I will be there."
Several other players flirted with the lead. Sean O'Hair was 4-under at one point, then had bogeys on the last three holes.
Woody Austin holed out on the 16th hole to reach three under, then bogeyed the 18th.
A total of 21 golfers finished below par on a cool day when the sun ducked in and out of the clouds.
With an average score of 73.03, the Canadian Open had the third most difficult opening round of a tournament this year, behind the Honda Classic and the U.S. Open.
'Nice to play courses like this'
There have been some complaints this week the rough in Vancouver is too thick, but Austin said it makes for a better tournament.
"It's nice to play courses like this," he said. "You're not going to allow a guy to hit wherever he wants too, and just putt his butt off."
Ernie Els, who also finished at 2 under, agreed.
"This is the way a national open should be played," said the South African who hasn't finished higher than 20th in his two previous Canadian Opens. "It should be played as tough as possible on a very stern test.
"That's what you've got here."
Luke Donald, the world's No. 1-ranked golfer, finished the day even, while Masters' Champion Charl Schwartzel was plus 1.
Among the other 16 Canadians in the field, David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., was tied for 21st at even par; Stephen Ames of Calgary was tied for 50th at two over; while Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., was tied for 96th at plus-4.
The tournament, the third oldest national open golf championship in the world, offers a total purse of $5.2 million US, with the winner earning $918,000.
This year's tournament has drawn seven of the top 25 players in the world. The field has 13 major-tournament winners and seven who have won PGA Tour events this season.
Blanks has a couple of Canadian connections.
His wife is from nearby White Rock, B.C. He also has used A.J. Eathorne of Penticton, B.C., as his caddie but the two parted company earlier this year.
"A. J. and I are still friends," said Blanks, who wore a bright purple hat and pant held up with a white belt. "It just got to the situation where I wasn't playing good.
"A. J. is a very positive person, very fiery. I'm a bit on the negative side. We never had any fights or anything like that, but it just got to the point where we weren't enjoying our time together. I knew she wasn't having fun, I wasn't having fun. It started to affect our relationship as friends."
A heavy rain soaked the course Wednesday night. The forecast for the rest of the week is for sun and temperatures of around 21 degrees.
The last time the Canadian Open was held at Shaughnessy was 2005. Mark Calcavecchia won that year with a score of 5-under 275.
The field of 156 will be reduced to the lowest 70 and ties Friday.