OAKVILLE, Ontario (Reuters) - Nineteen Canadians will tee it up on Thursday to begin what is quickly becoming an Andy Murray-esque pursuit and become the first home grown winner of the Canadian Open in 59 years.
While not nearly the national obsession that Murray brought to a heart-thumping end earlier this month when he became the first British man in 77 years to win a Wimbledon title, the bid to crown a local champion of Canada’s national championship becomes a bigger storyline with each passing decade.
Only once in the last 99 years has a native son claimed the Canadian Open and that was back in 1954 when Pat Fletcher ended what was then a 50-year barren run with a victory at Vancouver’s Point Grey Golf and Country Club.
“Being an American you want to win the U.S. Open ... I don’t feel like there is a pride factor like there is in Canada,” said Hunter Mahan, who will try to dash Canadian hopes by collecting his first win of the season this weekend.
“They haven’t had a champion since the 50s. You know when you have a drought that long you have to really start wanting it and start hoping. It becomes the focus of everyone this week.”
There will be no lack of support for the local contingent when the Canadian Open’s 104th edition gets underway at the Jack Nicklaus designed Glen Abbey layout but the chance of a happy ending remains slim in a quality field that features American world number six Matt Kuchar and reigning FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker.
Of the 19 Canadians entered this week, only five play on the PGA Tour and among those Graham DeLaet (at 67th) is the sole player ranked in the world’s top 100.
A 31-year-old journeyman still chasing his first PGA Tour title, DeLaet has confidently stepped into the role of the ‘Great Canadian Hope’.
Statistically he has been among the best players on the circuit this season, making the cut in 17 of 20 tournaments while ranking number one in greens in regulation.
“I think we’ve got a great core of Canadian golfers here this year, maybe as good as I’ve seen,” said DeLaet, in an attempt to deflect some of the mounting expectations.
“Some of the young guys who are not PGA Tour players, there’s no question there’s a ton of talent in this country and it’s only a matter of time really before we start seeing it.
“Would I like to win this golf tournament and hopefully change the landscape? Absolutely. I’m going to do everything I can, starting yesterday, to hopefully be on that 18th green late Sunday afternoon.”
Mike Weir, Canadian golf’s long-time standard bearer, is back at Glen Abbey this week but the little lefty found himself in the unfamiliar position of being asked to assess the chances of others walking away with the title, rather than his own.
Already a Canadian sporting icon thanks to his win at the 2003 Masters, Weir came close to lifting the Canadian crown in 2004, losing in a playoff to Fijian Vijay Singh.
Having clinched his first major victory at the Masters, Weir has landed two more PGA Tour wins, one in 2004 followed by the most recent of his eight career titles in 2007.
Since then, he has endured mostly lean and challenging years fraught with injury, including surgery in 2011 to repair the extensor tendon in his right elbow.
Weir has made the cut in just 10 PGA Tour events over the last three years, but eight of those have come this season, giving him hope that he has finally turned the corner on the long road back.
“The confidence level and the way I am playing from a year ago is a big change,” said the Canadian left-hander, still a lowly 586th in the world rankings. “I feel confident when I tee it up on Thursday every week now.
“I’m not quite where I want to be but I could say that about the weeks I’ve won before the week started and then things kind of come together and you end up winning the tournament.
“I think I can get some momentum going early in this tournament and get rolling. I’d like to win the Canadian Open too.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes