Canadian Open: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson bring star power to Glen Abbey
World's top 2 golfers in the field for first time in 2 decades
For the first time in almost two decades, the RBC Canadian Open will feature the best two players in the world when action tees off on Thursday at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont.
Defending champion Jason Day of Australia is the reigning World No. 1 and the favourite to win again this year. Standing in his way will be American Dustin Johnson, who is currently No. 2.
"I feel very motivated right now with how DJ is playing," said Day on Wednesday. "He's playing tremendous golf currently, and he's on the heels. He could play well here in the next few weeks and take over my spot, so I don't want that to happen."
Johnson is the common-law partner of Paulina Gretzky, the eldest child of the Great One. His win at the U.S. Open at Oakmont in June was a long time coming for a player that was at the top of the list of best players to have not won a major. He acknowledged that the major victory was a monkey off his back, both in regular tournaments like this week but especially in majors, the next one coming next week at the PGA Championship.
"I'm not still trying to get that first one," said the 32-year-old, who had Walter Gretzky following him around during Wednesday's pro-am. "And I know what it takes. I know I've got what it takes to get it done. That obviously gives me a lot of confidence."
Though it means nothing when live action starts Thursday, Johnson shot a 65 in the pro-am, tops by three strokes over a group that included Day and Canadian Adam Hadwin, who shot 68.
Day breaks Canadian hearts
The 1997 Canadian Open was the last time the event featured the two best players in the world, when both Tiger Woods — newly installed at No. 1 at the time — and Greg Norman both played the tournament at Royal Montreal.
Day won last year's tournament when he blitzed the Abbey with three straight birdies to close on Sunday. Needing to make a 25-footer to drop on 18, Day converted to put the pressure on American Bubba Watson and Canadian David Hearn in the final group, which was just about to tee off on 18. That putt set off an emotional reaction from Day and proved the difference when Watson and Hearn couldn't eagle 18 to force a playoff.
"When you have putts like that, as a kid, you try and work on what pose you're going to do and what you're going to do, fist-pumps and stuff," said the 28-year-old Day. "But it was just raw emotion that came out of me, and I can't remember what I did until I watched the film."
Less than an hour earlier, Hearn had walked off the 15th green with the lead. But the Canadian failed to convert a birdie on the final three holes and was passed by both Day and Watson to become the latest Canuck to endure at close call at the national open.
"I needed another birdie or two to close it out," said Hearn. "It wasn't like I lost the tournament. J-Day made birdie on the last three holes to win it."
Canadians hope to end title drought
There are 14 Canadians in the field this week, highlighted by PGA Tour regulars Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., Hearn, Hadwin and Nick Taylor, who both hail from Abbotsford. B.C. In addition, though he's no longer a full-time tour player, Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., is teeing it up in his 25th national championship.
On three occasions in the past 11 years a Canadian has come close to breaking a drought that extends back to 1954, with Weir (2004), Hadwin (2011) and Hearn (2015) all at or near the top of the leaderboard deep into Sunday.
Given all the factors at play, is it simply too big of an ask for a Canadian to win against so many of the world's best players? Hearn, Hadwin and Weir were all asked recently and said that it's not necessarily mission impossible, but close — a bit like winning a major championship.
"There is some truth to that," said Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, when asked if winning the Canadian Open is the same as winning a major. "The field is much deeper at a major, and major courses play much harder, but it's comparable to how difficult it is for us to play well with all the attention and pressure that comes with being Canadian [at the Canadian Open]."
An added wrinkle to this year's tournament is that players have a compressed window to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs because of the Olympics cramming the schedule in a Ryder Cup year. DeLaet (99th), Hearn (72nd) and Hadwin (92nd) are in good shape to advance but won't want to be complacent. Taylor (111th) is exempt through 2017 by virtue of his victory in late 2014.
RBC announced on Wednesday that it is extending its title sponsorship of the tournament. The current deal, set to expire after next year's event at Glen Abbey, will now run through 2023.