By Norm Elrod
(CBS Pittsburgh/CBS Local) — The RBC Canadian Open adapts to a new spot on the PGA Tour calendar again this year. Started in 1904, the oldest continuously running non-major moved from September to July in 2007. This year it moves up to early June. Wedged between the Open Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone until recently, it’s now bookended by the Memorial and the U.S. Open.
Organizers may feel like they just can’t win. But a fairly strong field this year suggests things are looking up. While some big names prefer a week of rest going into the season’s third major, others see this year’s event as a good warm-up. Top golfers set to tee off include Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, the top two players in the world, along with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, top-10 players in their own right. Johnson is the defending champion.
Other past and possibly future champions in the field include Brandt Snedeker (2013), Scott Piercy (2012), and Jim Furyk (2006, 2007). Bob Tway (2003) won’t tee it up, but his son Kevin Tway will. Alas, there will be no Tiger sightings this week, as the recent Masters champion rests up for the upcoming U.S. Open after a top-10 showing at the Memorial. But we can count on Bubba and Webb to be among the players fighting for the 500 FedExCup points and $1,368,000 winner’s share of the purse. Two years of the PGA Tour exempt status, along with an exemption into the 2019 Open Championship and an invitation to the 2020 Masters could sweeten the pot for lower-tier players.
The change on the PGA Tour calendar brings with it a change of venue, at least this year. Often held at Glen Abbey Golf Course, the RBC Canadian Open moves over to Hamilton Golf & Country Club outside of Toronto. One of Canada’s top courses, Hamilton first hosted the tournament 100 years ago. J. Douglas Edgar won that event by a commanding 16 strokes.
The classic par-70 course at Hamilton measures only 6966 yards, which is shorter than Glen Abbey by about 300 yards and short for the PGA Tour in general. It is, however, comparable in length to Pebble Beach. The course features only two par-fives — the 542-yard fourth hole and the 550-yard 17th — along with four par-threes. So aspiring champions must find scoring opportunities among the remaining par-fours.
That scoring will once again come from accuracy rather than distance. So strokes gained approaching the green and around it will matter much more than strokes gained off the tee. Trees and thick rough line the narrow fairways, with plenty of doglegs. Expect many players to mostly leave the driver in the bag and club down off the tee. After laying up and playing it safe, they’ll then go for the small rolling greens, before letting the putter take over. Changes in elevation come into play all over the course, as do arrays of bunkers that protect most greens.
From this year’s field, only Piercy and Furyk have won the RBC Canadian Open on this course. A Canadian has not emerged victorious at his national event in well over half a century. Who are the favorites this week?
Dustin Johnson (11/2)
Ranked second in the world, Johnson is the defending champion at the RBC Canadian Open. He also has tied for second in the event in 2013 and 2016. None of these appearances happened at Hamilton, a course he’s never competed on. Johnson hasn’t won this season since the WGC-Mexico Championship back in February, but he did log a T2 at the Masters and a solo second second at the Players. Look for him to dial back the distance and find his way onto the leaderboard.
Brooks Koepka (6/1)
Koepka is capable of winning non-majors. And what better way to show he’s ready for the U.S. Open than a strong performance at the RBC Canadian Open? The world’s top-ranked golfer likes to play the week prior to majors, even if his results have been mixed in those events. This year he has graced the top five in three of his last four outings. Those include his win at the PGA Championship and his fourth-place finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson the week before.
Rory McIlory (10/1)
McIlroy, the world’s fourth-ranked player, is playing some of the best golf of his career. While he missed the cut at the Memorial, he had been a mainstay on leaderboards prior to that, with nine top-10 finishes this year. McIlroy is also among the Tour leaders in strokes gained. That won’t matter as much off the tee at Hamilton, but it certainly will getting from the fairway to the green. McIlroy certainly has his eye on the U.S. Open, but he’s not looking past his first RBC Canadian Open.