5 Things: Mahan takes control; Merrick goes low
OAKVILLE, Ontario – On a chamber of commerce day, Hunter Mahan birdied his last three holes to shoot 64 and seize the 36-hole lead of the RBC CanadianOpen at Glen Abbey Golf Club. Taking advantage of calm conditions and soft, receptive greens, Mahan finished with a total of 13-under 131 and a two-stroke lead over John Merrick, who tied the course-record with a 10-under 62.
“I kind of built on last week,” said Mahan, who finished T-9 at the British Open. “I got some good things I’m doing with my swing and everything, and feel good about that, and I’m just going out there and really trying to trust my game.”
Here are 5 Things you need to know:
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1. MAHAN LEADS IN FOLEY’S “KINGDOM:” Last week, Hunter Mahan joked at the British Open that when it came to instructor Sean Foley, Mahan had seniority over fellow Foley pupils Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood (not to mention U.S. Open winner Justin Rose). But this week Mahan is flying solo as Foley is missing the RBC Canadian Open to attend a wedding in Minnesota.
Foley, an Ontario native, has a lot of history at Glen Abbey. It was here at Glen Abbey that Foley dreamed of becoming a top instructor after watching David Leadbetter work with pupil Nick Faldo in the early 1990s. It was here at Glen Abbey, as a golf instructor, that Foley met his future wife, Kate. He gave her a lesson. None of this is surely lost on Mahan, who is searching for his first win of the season.
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2. MERRICK TIES THE COURSE RECORD: When John Merrick headed to the first tee this morning, he didn’t have the foggiest idea he was about to shoot the lowest round of his career and tie the course record at Glen Abbey with a 10-under-par 62.
“I actually kind of had a really bad warmup this morning,” Merrick said. “It was strange. I wasn’t hitting it that great and I didn’t feel that good.”
Merrick had opened with a five-birdie, four-bogey round of 71 in the first round, and hadn’t finished better than T-22 since his maiden victory at the Northern Trust Open in February. When asked if it had crossed his mind whether he might be trunk-slamming it after his round rather than two shots off the lead, Merrick clarified: “Well, it wasn’t that bad. But, it didn’t feel like a 62 at all.”
Sensing his swing was a little too upright, Merrick racked his brain for a swing Band-aid.
“I made a little fix on the range and it worked out,” he said, in the understatement of the day.
Merrick’s 62 tied Greg Norman’s tournament record at Glen Abbey in the third round of the 1986 Canadian Open. Merrick’s hot round got a boost with an eagle on the par-5 second hole, where he chipped in from 20 feet.
“That kind of calmed me down,” he said.
From the intermediate rough on No. 2, Merrick cut a low bullet from 240 yards to a back right pin location. He said he it perfect, but it skittered through the green. Then he used his 60-degree wedge to jumpstart his round.
“I tried to dunk something out of the fringe and it rolled down and luckily went in the hole,” he said.
Merrick stuck his tee shot within 8 feet on the par-3 seventh and rolled in a 32-foot birdie putt on eight to tour the front side in 31. He made six birdies on the inward nine, including on the final two holes.
When Merrick rolled in a 14-foot birdie putt on the 18th green, he turned to his caddie and said, “Was that 10 under?”
It sure was, and the bogey-free round shattered his Tour-low and matched his personal low round. He said he sizzled to 62 back at the muni course he grew up playing in Long Beach, Calif.
“But it’s not as difficult as a Tour course,” he confirmed.
Merrick is a longtime student of Jamie Mulligan, but also has sought a second set of eyes from Bill Harmon, who Merrick credited with helping him with alignment issues and trying to swing a little flatter. Merrick hooked up with Harmon last year after the Honda Classic. Merrick was all smiles after hitting 17 of 18 greens.
So far, Merrick’s season has been a mixed bag, with his storybook victory in his hometown of Los Angeles, and seven missed cuts in 18 starts. But being a newly-minted champion hasn’t changed Merrick’s life much.
“I’m still changing diapers at home,” he said.
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3. WEIR-SY GOES WILD: Those waves of sustained and exuberant cheering you may heard reverberating all over Glen Abbey? They were Mike Weir’s faithful fans applauding his eight birdies in a round of 67.
“There’s not really anybody on Tour that kind of has anything like this, to have the support like that,” Weir said. “To see the gallery support today as I got going and got rolling, you can really feed off that, and I did.”
This marks the first time Weir has made the cut at the RBC Canadian Open since 2009, the last time the tournament was held at Glen Abbey (in 2004, he lost a playoff to Vijay Singh here).
“I’ve been dancing around really good numbers here for a while,” he said.
A resurgent Weir recorded seven consecutive rounds of par or better coming into this week, but he couldn’t buy a putt on Thursday. He hit 16 greens and made only one birdie in a round of 73. So what did he do? He tried a new putter.
“The one I used today has a little softer insert,” Weir said. “I guess that putter doesn’t have a line on it, and the line was just kind of a distraction yesterday to me. I felt like I needed a change, and it was a good change.”
Weir wasn’t the only Canadian to send the fans into a frenzy. David Hearn birdied the final three holes and drained a 47-foot putt on the final green to survive the 36-hole cut.
“I said to my caddie, ‘Let's run the tables, we've still got a chance here,’ and I did. Any time you do that, it feels good,” Hearn said. “I'll go into the weekend with a little bit of confidence, but I've got a lot of work to do.”
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4. NELFORD HONORED: On Friday evening, former PGA Tour pro Jim Nelford, 58, was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame as its 71st member. Nelford had a decorated amateur career, capturing the 1975 and 1976 Canadian Amateur titles, the 1973 British Columbia Junior title, and the 1975 British Columbia Amateur. He turned professional in 1977, and played on Tour for a decade. Nelford teamed with Dan Halldorson to represent Canada in 1980 in winning the World Cup.
In September 1985, Nelford, 30, nearly was killed in a water-skiing accident. He was treading water when the boat that had been pulling him raced toward him, and the boat’s propeller tore into his right arm between the hand and elbow. Bone, cartilage and tendons were so badly damaged that doctors wanted to amputate.
“It was very much like being blown up, like the guys coming back from war being blown up, dealing with post-traumatic stress,” Nelford said of coming back from his career-threatening injury. “I guess you could say, well, if I can get through that, I can get through about anything.”
Nelford never did win on the Tour, losing a playoff to Hale Irwin at the 1984 AT&T National Pro-Am after he pulled his tee shot at Pebble Beach’s 18th hole toward the Pacific only for the ball to bounce back into play. “I’m still waiting for my apology from Hale and still haven’t got it, but I’m not holding my breath any longer,” Nelford said.
But winning, he said, wasn’t everything.
“That would mean it’s about the destination, and it’s not,” he said. “It was the journey. It’s all the shots that you hit, all the work that you do to get yourself in that position.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Bubba Watson, who averaged 322 yards per drive on Friday, shot a 67 and is alone in third place at 9 under … Graeme McDowell rallied from an opening-round 76 to shoot 65 and climb to T-42 … Tommy Gainey, who ranks No. 135 in the FedEx Cup standings, fired an 8-under 64. He strung together four consecutive birdies between Nos. 2-5 and went one better on the back side between hole Nos. 13-17. He led the strokes-gained putting stat in Round 2 with an average of 6.379 … Alistair Presnell, who had missed the cut in eight of his last 10 previous starts, shot 67 and improved to T-16 … Jesper Parnevik carded a pair of 73s and missed the cut. This was his final start of his major medical extension. Parnevik will be demoted to past champion status … Charl Schwartzel made a double-eagle on the par-5 second hole, holing a 9-iron from 176 yards … Four of the 18 Canadians in the field made the cut, led by Weir (T-26), Brad Fritsch (T-56), Roger Sloan (T-56), and Hearn (T-63).