5 Things: Steele leads Canadian, Kuchar on heels
Brendan Steele birdied seven of 11 holes during his morning round to take the opening-round lead Thursday at the RBC Canadian Open – but he's got some well-known company not far behind him.
With first place earning just more than $1 million this week, and the last chance to get into next month's PGA Championship on the line as well, the field is solid even though it required a flight across the Atlantic for those who played in last week's Open Championship.
Matt Kuchar, No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and Scott Brown, winner of the Puerto Rico Open in March, and Scott Gardiner are one stroke back.
Hunter Mahan, who played in the final group Sunday at the last two majors, and David Lingmerth are tied for fifth another shot back.
Here are 5 Things to Know after Thursday's first round at Glen Abbey in Ontario:
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1. STEELE'S THE DEAL: Three times Thursday, Brendan Steele notched back-to-back birdies en route to the round of the day; he scattered two other birdies and a bogey for his 65.
Steele had birdied the par-3 No. 7 hole for a two-shot lead with two holes to play, but gave one back with a bogey at No. 9.
Birdies at three of the four par-3 holes at Glen Abbey and two of the par-5s gave him most of his advantage, while his lone bogey came at the par-4 ninth to end his round. Steele has put himself in solid position to avenge a missed cut in his only other Canadian Open appearance two years ago.
Steele has made 12 of 20 cuts on Tour this season, with three top-25 finishes – most recently back-to-back at the Travelers Championship and AT&T National last month. He's looking to restore that momentum after finishing T-41 at The Greenbriar Classic and missing the cut at the John Deere Classic.
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2. KUCHAR KEEPS CLOSE: A solid season continues for Matt Kuchar, his opening 66 placing him T-2 after the first round and resuming the momentum he had going before taking his foot off the gas between majors.
Kuchar did not play on Tour between the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, only posting a T-49 at the European Tour's Alstom Open de France in the interim.
Before that, the Georgia Tech product had finished second at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, won the Memorial and finished T-28 at Merion. The hiccup in France was his worst finish of the year, topping a T-48 at the Players Championship, but Kuchar got back on track with a T-15 at Muirfield two weeks later.
Kuchar is third in Fed Ex Cup points this season, but figures to pass the idle Phil Mickelson this week.
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3. OPEN CONTESTANTS OK: Many of those who occupied last week's leaderboard in Scotland are absent this week in Ontario. But among those who made the long trip west, several were rewarded Thursday.
Those in the top 10 last week found themselves there again – their scores lower, naturally. Hideki Matsuyama finished T-6 at Muirfield, his best round a 1-under 70, but shot 3-under 69 Thursday at Glen Abbey. Hunter Mahan, in the wake of his T-9 keyed by a 3-under 68 in the third round, went even lower than Matsuyama and opened with a 5-under 67.
Brandt Snedeker, after a T-11 led by an opening 3-under 68, started this week a little slower with a 2-under 70. And Justin Leonard, after a T-13 led by a 1-under 70, started this week with a 1-under 71. Luke Donald, meanwhile, bounced back somewhat from missing the cut in the Open Championship with a 1-over 73 that puts him in position to get back into weekend play.
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4. AMATEUR ANYTHING BUT: Corey Conners of Kent State, one of two amateurs in this week's field, opened strong with a 1-under 71 that could have seen him go even lower.
Conners was even par through 12 holes before things got interesting: Back-to-back birdies at Nos. 13-14 lifted him to 2 under, followed by a bogey and then an eagle at the par-5 No. 16 hole that took him to 3 under – at the time the low Canadian in the field. Back-to-back bogeys on his last two holes, however, returned him to 1 under.
The rising senior from Listowel, Ontario, finished the college season No. 31 in the Golfweek/Sagarin men's individual rankings.
Adam Svensson, the other amateur in the field and also a Canadian, opened with a 4-over 76.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Among the exceptions to Open Championship contestants playing well this week: Graeme McDowell struggled at Muirfield in missing the cut and continued to do so at Glen Abbey by opening with a 4-over 76 that puts him T-141. He looks likely to continue his trend of missing the cut if he doesn't win or contend. . . . Dustin Johnson finished his time at Muirfield with three rounds over par and continued that at Glen Abbey by opening with a 3-over 75. . . . Last week's Tour winner in Mississippi, Woody Austin, started this week with a 10-over 82 that saw him birdie early at No. 2 and late at No. 18. . . . Vijay Singh's opening 69 was his best score since the third round of last month's AT&T National. . . . One common thread between the four golfers atop the leaderboard (Steele, Kuchar, Brown, Gardiner): They all birdied the par-5 second hole.