As soon as Canadian Corey Conners landed north of the border for the RBC Canadian Open, he immediately made a beeline for a Tim Hortons and ordered an apple fritter and an espresso.
“Don’t know what it is about it, but that makes me feel like I’m at home,” he said of Canada’s largest quick-service restaurant chain.
The COVID-19 global pandemic canceled the 111th playing of Canada’s national championship at St. George’s Golf & Country Club in Toronto for the past two years, during which a lot has changed in the golf world. A week before Rory McIlroy claimed the title in 2019 at Hamilton Golf & Country Club, reigning world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler missed the cut the Korn Ferry Tour’s Rex Hospital Open.
At the Canadian Open, two-time major champ Collin Morikawa made his pro debut, finishing T-14, and a week later Viktor Hovland was the low amateur at the US Open. In the preceding three years, all three young guns have reached No. 3 or higher in the Official World Golf Ranking and combined to win 12 times on the PGA Tour.
RBC CANADIAN: Tee times, TV info | PGA Tour Live on ESPN+
“I think everyone I’ve spoken to, everyone that I’ve seen out on the golf course is really excited for the Canadian Open to be back,” said McIlroy, who shot 61 in the final round three years ago to win by seven strokes. “And just for live sporting events in general to be back on in this country. So yeah, excited to be back, excited to finally defend my title from three years ago at Hamilton.”
Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion leads a star-studded field that also includes the winner of the Players Championship (Cameron Smith) and PGA Championship (Justin Thomas). The RBC marks the fourth consecutive event on the PGA Tour schedule (and third non-major) with at least three of the top five players in the OWGR. Still, some big names, including former RBC ambassador Dustin Johnson, are missing and playing in the debut event for the LIV Golf Series, an upstart circuit funded by Saudi Arabia, at Centurion Golf Club near London.
Scheffler, who has won four times in his past 10 starts and lost a playoff two weeks ago, said he’s excited to make his first start in Canada.
“We got the best players in the world. I think we got five of the top 10 playing here this week? So the best players in the world are out here playing golf and I’m looking forward to competing against them this week,” he said. “I don’t really know what’s going on over there, so I don’t really have much to say.”
McIlroy, who has been one of the Tour’s staunchest supporters, echoed that sentiment.
“I want to play on the PGA Tour against the best players in the world. And I think for me, speaking to a few people yesterday and one of the comments was, anything, any decision that you make in your life that’s purely for money usually doesn’t end up going the right way,” he said. “Obviously money is a deciding factor in a lot of things in this world, but if it’s purely for money it’s not, never seems to, you know, it never seems to go the way you want it to.”
McIlroy recalled marking his ball on the greens when he won three years ago with a Canadian Loonie and said one of the golden dollar coins was already waiting in his locker when he arrived this week. The tournament’s local flare includes 20 Canadians in the field this week, including the threesome of Adam Hadwin, Mackenzie Hughes and 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir. Hughes, who referred to Weir as his childhood idol, was just 13 years old when he caddied in the pro am at the 2004 Canadian Open in a group with Weir.
“To think, what is it, 18 years later, I’ll play the first two rounds with him and be playing in the Canadian Open as a, you know, I think a player that has a chance to win, it’s pretty cool, Hughes said.
He’ll try to end his countrymen’s drought dating to 1954, the last time a Canadian golfer (Pat Fletcher) won his national championship. Even McIlroy has heard of Canada’s long wait for a native winner.
“Corey Conners gets told every five minutes,” he cracked.
Conners, the top-ranked Canadian golfer at No. 31, said the current crop of Canadian players may finally be up to the task.
“I think it’s just a matter of time before someone changes the history on that,” he said.