TORONTO – It’s been 20 years since Mike Weir won the Masters, and now Canada is seeing the influence that victory had – with more Canadians playing at a high level on the PGA TOUR than ever before.
But one thing that continues to elude the best from Canada – including Weir himself – is a victory at the RBC Canadian Open. The last Canadian to win the country’s national open was Pat Fletcher in 1954.
Through 18 holes, however, Corey Conners is trending towards breaking the long-standing drought.
Conners shot a 5-under 67 to open things at Oakdale Golf and Country Club, and through the first round he sits in a four-way tie for the lead with Aaron Rai, Justin Lower and Chesson Hadley.
The last Canadian to lead the RBC Canadian Open after the first round was Weir in 2008, and the last Canadian to lead the championship after any round was David Hearn, who had the 54-hole lead in 2015.
Conners, who finished sixth at last year’s RBC Canadian Open, was not able to speak to media after his round because he had to deal with an urgent personal matter.
His caddie, Danny Sahl, said that Conners’ success came from being strong all around and especially disciplined off the tee. Conners hasn’t made a bogey at the RBC Canadian Open in 51 holes, dating back to last year.
Conners was first in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and fourth in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee after the first round. Sahl said there’s an easy comparison between Oakdale and Oak Hill Country Club, the host of this year’s PGA Championship where Conners played in Sunday’s penultimate pairing.
“It’s the same mentality that he brought over from (Oak Hill), and he knows that’s what it’s going to take to play well,” Sahl said. “Just get it in the fairway and we were aggressive on a couple of holes. He’s seeing his spots and keeping it really simple.”
Weir also had the first-round lead at the RBC Canadian Open in 2004 and came agonizingly close to winning the event – eventually losing in a playoff to Vijay Singh. He knows as much as anyone what it’s going to take to keep the pedal down over the next three days.
“I think (Conners is) experienced enough to know that we’re so early and that it doesn’t really mean much yet,” Weir said. “I know he just wants to, I’m sure, keep doing what he’s doing. I was watching a little on TV this morning and he looked like he was just playing Corey Conners golf. I saw solid play and nice ball striking, and that’s a good recipe around here.
“It’s pretty demanding off the tee. If you miss the fairways you’re in trouble, so if you can keep driving it good, he’ll be in good shape.”
Conners is one of three Canadians to have won on the PGA TOUR this season, with Mackenzie Hughes and Adam Svensson being the others.
Hughes made four birdies on his back nine Thursday to finish at 3 under. Taylor Pendrith and Roger Sloan also got it to 3 under after the first round.
Weir, in his 30th RBC Canadian Open start, shot an even-par 72.
Hughes, who went to Kent State University with both Pendrith and Conners, said with golf in Canada continuing to increase its momentum, having a Canadian with a chance to win on Sunday would be huge.
“We’ve got a few guys up there, kind of close, and hopefully one of us can keep it going all the way to Sunday,” Hughes said.