Putting prowess in demand at Canadian Open

Mike Weir came close to winning his country’s national championship in 2004, losing in a playoff.

Mike Weir came close to winning his country’s national championship in 2004, losing in a playoff.

Canadian Open

July 22-25

Location: St. George’s Golf and Country Club (7,046 yards, par 70), Toronto, Canada.

Purse: $5.1 million. Winner’s share: $918,000.

Last year: Australia’s Nathan Green won the rain-delayed tournament in a Monday finish at Glen Abbey, beating Retief Goosen on the second hole of a playoff.

THREE TO WATCH

Mike Weir – Oh, Canada! He came so close to winning his country’s national championship in 2004, losing in a playoff. Weir ranks No. 2 in putts per round, and if he can get some to fall this week he should be among the contenders.

Paul Casey – Can he stay hot north of the border and avoid the big number this week? Had it not been for two triple-bogeys at the British Open, Casey might have been the champion golfer of the year.

Sean O’Hair – Still looking for his first win of the season, he tied for low-American finisher at the British Open (T-7). O’Hair needs to make up ground if he’s going to make a Ryder Cup push. (He’s currently No. 19 in the standings).

Whenever asked to name the best putter of his era, Jack Nicklaus often has mentioned lanky lefthander Bob Charles.

One reason: 42 years ago, Charles out-putted Nicklaus to win the 1968 Canadian Open by two strokes.

It’s been that long since the PGA Tour has visited Toronto’s St. George’s Golf and Country Club. Golf fans north of the border can only hope for such a showdown to repeat itself. They’ll be rooting for native son Mike Weir, another lefty with a magical putting touch, finally to win his country’s national championship.

Established in 1904, the RBC Canadian Open is the third-oldest national championship worldwide next to the British Open and U.S. Open. It is one of the grande dames of tournament golf, with a winner’s list that reads like the Hall of Fame roll call. Byron Nelson won there. So did Arnold Palmer. Sam Snead won three of his record 82 tour events in Canada. And who can forget Tiger Woods in 2000, smoking a 218-yard six-iron shot from a fairway bunker on the 72nd hole? The ball carried over the large pond guarding the green and stopped 18-feet from the hole. He won, too.

In recent years, the combination of an unfavorable date in the FedEx Cup schedule after the British Open and an underwhelming rota of courses have hurt player turnout and fan attendance.

But Golf Canada organizers have done their best to bolster their event. A return to St. George’s, a Stanley Thompson-design ranked among the country’s best, has attracted a field with 11 of the top-30 on the FedEx Cup standings.

Perhaps the biggest reason why this is just the fifth time in tournament history that St. George’s will host the Canadian Open is the lack of space to accommodate all the accoutrements of modern tournament golf. Indeed, players will start on the first and ninth holes on Thursday and Friday instead of the traditional first and 10th at most tour events, and the tournament will use the driving range at nearby Islington Golf Club.

As it was when Charles’ wielded his trusty Bulls Eye putter to victory, putting prowess still will be at a premium, according to newly-minted Canadian touring pro Matt Hill.

“You really want to stay below the holes. The greens are pretty sloped from back to front,” Hill said. “I think that’s going to be pretty important just to try to control the speed on a lot of the greens. A few of them you can’t even keep it on even if you pretty much tap it.”

May the best putter win.

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