RBC Canadian Open
It was a frustrating week for us in the end at the Memorial as while a couple of our players threatened to make the frame neither were in the end able to deliver what was needed on Sunday to do so.
In particular with our 250/1 play Sepp Straka, who had been right in the thick of things on Saturday before making double bogey on his final hole, it was a case of what might have been. The Austrian shot a final round 75 with a triple bogey seven on the more innocuous third hole the difference between his eventual 16th place finish and the level par round, which would have bagged us a big each way return. Meanwhile one of our other selections Tyrrell Hatton threatened a run in to the places on Sunday before coming unstuck with a double bogey on 17.
The event itself was won by Viktor Hovland who finally bagged the elusive long overdue, ‘big event win’ on US soil that he had so far been lacking. The Norwegian had been knocking on the door all spring and his ability to handle the closing three hole stretch over the weekend while all others floundered on it was enough to see him make a play off with Denny McCarthy, who had putted the lights out for four days before finally failing to make the par putt on 18, which would have bagged him the trophy. Similarly on the first play off hole McCarthy’s par effort slipped by leaving Hovland to hole a nervy five footer to bag the title.
So onwards we go and it’s time for the final warm up event before next weeks US Open, the RBC Canadian Open.
In 2019 the RBC Canadian Open moved from its historical slot the week after the British Open to being played the week before the US Open. With the event then being cancelled in 2020 and 2021 this week will represent the third time the event has filled this slot in the schedule.
The RBC Canadian Open was first played in 1904 and has been played continuously since, bar breaks during WWI and WWII and then over the past two years.
The event is the third longest standing on the PGA Tour calendar behind the US Open and Open Championship.
The event has historically hopped around different courses in Canada however since 2013 it has been played at Glen Abbey GC in Oakville, Ontario every year apart from in 2014. Last year though it move to St George’s G&CC in Toronto, Ontario, a venue which last hosted this event in 2010, and this year we remain in the Toronto area as Oakdale Golf & CC plays host for the first time.
With the event coming the week before a Major Championship you would perhaps expect a lot of the big names to be sitting this week out, however as always some elite players prefer to play the week before a Major so we have a reasonably strong field lining up.
The market is dominated by Rory McIlroy who looks to land a Canadian Open ‘threepeat’, The Northern Irishman is then followed by the English duo of Matt Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton, who in turn are followed by Sam Burns, Cameron Young and the leading home hope Corey Conners.
Oakdale G&CC GC is a relatively short par 72 measuring just over 7250yds on the official scorecard.
Unlike most par 72 layouts though as opposed to the normal mix of four par fives and four par three’s alongside the par fours, Oakdale features three par three’s and three par fives, alongside 12 par fours.
The greens are bentgrass.
The course is a parkland track, featuring tree lined fairways. Relatively short in length with all the par fives ‘gettable’ and five of the par fours on the course measuring under 400yds in length the courses main defence will be the rough, which by all accounts has been grown up to a level to put a premium on finding fairways.
With two of the par fives coming on the back nine and the front nine featuring a stretch from three through to five of three par fours measuring over 460yds the back nine certainly looks more scoreable. All in all though with the weather set to co operate I expect scoring to be pretty good.
The course is a composite of three tracks on site with the main make up having been designed by Stanley Thompson and opened in 1926. Thompson who was born in Canada was renowned for his designs across the country and he was also responsible for last years host course St Georges.
With a course in play that has not been seen before event form/history is probably worth little to nothing this week, however for what it’s worth I have listed the winners of the event going back to 2010.
The winners of these events have been as follows;
2022 R McIlroy
2019 R McIlroy
2018 D Johnson
2017 J Vegas
2016 J Vegas
2015 J Day
2014 T Clark
2013 B Snedeker
2012 S Piercy
2011 S O’Hair
2010 C Pettersson
While this is speculation of course the one leaderboard that could offer some clues is last years, with that event being played on another Thompson design in the Toronto area. Ultimately though how much you can glean from a ‘one, two, three’ of McIlroy, Thomas and Finau is debatable!
Another factor to consider is the events position in the schedule prior to the US Open and how this may impact things and to this end we may be best looking further back in to the history books at the Fedex St Jude winners, the event which used to fill this slot along with the 2019 and 2022 editions here as well as 2021’s one off event the Palmetto Championship.
Looking at these we see that since 2010 alongside the two wins each for McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, there have been wins for Harrison Frazar, Harris English, Ben Crane, Fabien Gomez, Daniel Berger twice and Garrick Higgo at the Palmetto.
There are two things that stand out to me here. The first is that outside of the wins for Rory, DJ and to a lesser extent Berger, who wasn’t as established as he is now, there is, as we know already, clearly the opportunity for a shock result the week before a major.
The second and perhaps more interesting fact is that not since Harrizon Frazar hacked up in the US Open sectional qualifying the Monday before, has a player come through that qualifying and then gone on to win that weeks PGA Tour event.
What this tells me is that we either need to be looking for someone this week who is already exempt for LACC, or someone who fails to get in and is fully focused on this weeks task in hand, rather than someone who does get in at the last minute and is perhaps thinking ahead to next week re travel plans for him and his family and just the overall excitement of making the field for arguably the biggest event of the year.
Finally to tie in the overall thought of the potential for shocks the week before a Major I thought I would return to a theme, which I highlighted before the years first two Majors and look at the recent winners on the PGA Tour the week before a Major was played. You will therefore see a list below going back to the start of 2018.
2023 – Byron Nelson [Pre PGA] J Day
2023 - Valero Texas Open [Pre Masters] C Conners
2022 – Genesis Scottish Open [Pre Open] X Schauffele
2022 – RBC Canadian Open [Pre-US Open] R McIlroy
2022 – AT&T Byron Nelson [Pre – PGA] KH Lee
2022 – Valero Texas Open [Pre Masters] JJ Spaun
2021 – John Deere Classic [Pre Open] L Glover
2021 – Palmetto Champ [Pre US Open] G Higgo
2021 – Byron Nelson [Pre – PGA] KH Lee
2021 – Valero Texas Open [Pre- Masters] Jordan Spieth
2020 – Houston Open [Pre- Masters] Carlos Ortiz
2020 – Safeway Open [Pre- US Open] Stewart Cink
2020 – WGC – Fedex St Jude [Pre-USPGA] Justin Thomas
2019 – John Deere Classic [Pre-Open] Dylan Fritelli
2019 – Canadian Open [Pre- US Open] Rory McIlroy
2019 – Byron Nelson [Pre- PGA] Sung Kang
2019 – Valero Texas Open [Pre Masters] Corey Conners
2018 – WGC Bridgestone Inv [Pre- PGA] Justin Thomas
2018 – John Deere Classic [Pre Open] Michael Kim
2018 – WGC Fedex St Jude [Pre- Open] Dustin Johnson
2018 – Houston Open [Pre- Masters] Ian Poulter
As we can see from this list if we exclude the three WGC’s where you would always expect a bigger name to be focused on bagging the trophy only four of them, the 2021 Valero Texas Open and this event in 2019 and again 2022 and last years Scottish Open have been won by really big names with McIlroy twice, Jordan Spieth and Schauffele, and in Spieth’s case having been winless for so long he was clearly 100% focused. Similarly you could certainly have historically put Jason Day in the ‘elite’ bracket however clearly this year he has been on the comeback trail and would have been fully focused in Texas at bagging his first win in five years.
With the remaining events though having been won by ‘lesser names’ it is clear that in general it makes sense to swerve the marquee names when they tee it up the week before a Major as they will most likely be using the event as a tune up.
We look set for a reasonably dry week with temperatures fluctuating from the high mid 60s up to the low 70s. As I type though there is a possibility of an odd shower on Thursday and more worryingly a small possibility of storm on Sunday.
Wind could be a slight issue with gusts of 15mph+ a possibility particularly on Saturday.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
MICHAEL KIM –80/1 - 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 43rd
It is of course quite possible, even highly likely that Rory McIlroy puts last weeks Sunday woes behind him and rises to the challenge this week of landing a remarkable ‘ Canadian threepeat’ on three different courses. However in a week where there is no doubt a lot of the big names teeing it up will have one eye on LA next week I am happy to speculate with six bigger odds picks starting with Michael Kim.
I risked Kim at the Byron Nelson the week after his big finish at the Wells Fargo and sadly it would seem that my one concern heading in to that week, some mental let down after a huge week both points and financially wise for a player who had struggled so much over the recent years, came to fruition as he missed the cut.
Rested up though a fortnight later Michael came straight back out at Colonial and posted another big result, a sixth place finish, to show that with the exception of the Byron Nelson, he really is on a great run of form at the moment, which stretches all the way back to February and has seen him post five top 20s, including three top tens in that time.
Taking a look at Kim’s stats for the season and while he is not doing any one particular thing spectacularly he has been solid across the bag with his numbers improving in line with his upturn in form over the more recent months. This is something that is rubber stamped by his stats from last time out at the Colonial, which saw him rank 12th from tee to green, 15th around the green, 19th off the tee, 24th in putting and 26th in approach.
On to this week then and having posted his lone win on the PGA Tour when he hacked up with a -27 total at the John Deere in 2018 you would have to think that the anticipated lower scoring ‘birdie fest’ this week expected this week at Oakdale could be very much to Kim’s liking.
Kim is not in the field for next week at LACC so he should be 100% focused on the job in hand this week, particularly as at 82nd in the Fedex Cup standings he knows he is in sight of that all important top 70 this season. I am happy to chance him this week then to continue his rich run of recent form and return to the winners circle for the second time.
BEN MARTIN 125/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up I am going to return to a player I backed in this event last year, Ben Martin.
I sided with Ben in this event last year as he had started to show glimpses of a return to form, notably with his near miss when second at the Corales earlier in the year, while he had also arrived in Canada that week on the back of a top ten in the Korn Ferry event the week before. Sadly it wasn’t quite to be that week for the 35yr old as he produced a steady but unspectacular 53rd place finish.
Roll the clock on 12 months however and it is a very different story as the shoots of recovery we were starting to see from Martin this time last year have sprouted in to full acorns as having regained his full playing privileges through the Korn Ferry last season he has posted four top 15 finishes to date including a best of fifth at the Honda Classic to currently sit 92nd in the Fedex Cup standings.
So here we are back in Canada then and there is plenty to make me think that this weeks set up could be ideal for Ben and one he can thrive on.
While there is of course an element of speculation on what to expect from Oakdale, with plenty of short par fours in play and reachable par fives, Ben’s lack of length off the tee, he currently sits 168th in Driving Distance, will not be an issue. With reports of thickish rough though his accurate tee to green game, which currently sees him at 38th in accuracy and 15th in strokes-gained-approach will hopefully be ideal for here.
In addition if we look at Martin’s history on tour and it is littered with strong performances at shorter venues like Sawgrass, Hilton Head, Waialae CC and Colonial, while whether coincidence or not his two best results, his win at the Shriners and his runner up at the John Deere both came on low scoring tracks with three par fives.
While Ben has on paper cooled off slightly from his strong run earlier in the year, which saw him notch four top 15s in six starts, last time out at Colonial he was right in the mix through three rounds before a poor Sunday saw him tumble down the board. That said despite the poor final day he still ranked 15th in accuracy for the week, 15th off the tee and 35th in approach play so his tee to green game is still firing nicely.
To sum up then the one time tour winner and former world amateur number one appears to be trending in the direction of a second win and I am happy to chance him to land it here this week.
DOUG GHIM - 125/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 12th
Moving on and next up for me this week I am going to return to a player I backed recently at the Byron Nelson, Doug Ghim.
Aside from the fact that Ghim was teeing it up in his adopted home state that week at TPC Craig Ranch I was drawn to him by his upturn in form at Quail Hollow in his previous start, which saw him post a 27th place finish.
That week in Charlotte while he hadn’t quite put it all together for four days there had been some promising signs. Thursday and Friday for example saw him ranked fifth and first respectively in Driving Accuracy while on Saturday he was 16th from tee to green. In addition the putter, normally his nemesis behaved solidly all week.
All this was enough to lead me to chance Doug the following week then and while he didn’t quite deliver for us it was another really promising effort as he posted a 19th place finish closing out with a 64.
Furthermore a look at Doug’s stats that week show us that he excelled in all the areas, where we know his strengths lie when on song, fifth in driving accuracy, tenth in approach play and eighth from tee to green.
Meanwhile a look at Doug’s stats for this season show us that as well confirming he one of the tours shorter more accurate hitters when he does stray in to the rough he excels from shorter distances from 50-125yds and in as he currently ranks third on tour in that area, and allowing for the number of short par fours this week that could just come in to play.
Rested then since the Byron Nelson Ghim returns this week at a track that should suit his ability to pick a course apart from tee to green with his lack of length not set to be an issue.
Currently at 150th in the Fedex Cup standings Doug will be fully motivated in the task at hand this week and I am happy at the odds to risk him to build on his recent upturn.
CARSON YOUNG– 150/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 43rd
Alongside Ghim in 19th place at the Byron Nelson that week was Carson Young and that was yet another eye catching finish in what is turning in to a decent first stab at the PGA Tour from Young.
Granted it took the tour debutant a while to find his feet on tour with nothing better than 53rd in his first 11 starts however a 29th at the Honda was a prelude to a run, which has now seem him post six top 30 finishes in his last nine starts.
The highlight of that run was a third place in Puerto Rico in, which Carson opened up with 63 and having posted another round of the same score at the Byron Nelson recently. As well as a 65 in Mexico, it is clear he is a player comfortable in ‘going low’ which, may well stand him in good stead this week.
Carson then followed his 19th place at the Byron Nelson with a 21st place at Colonial, however that doesn’t tell the full story as prior to that week’s event he had posted rounds of 62 and 63 to destroy the field in final qualifying in Dallas for the US Open meaning he gets to tee it up in LA next week. Furthermore to show us again his propensity to go low Carson made ten consecutive three’s including seven birdies in one of those rounds!
On to this week then and Carson arrives in Canada currently sat in 100th place in the Fedex standings meaning while I am sure he will be looking forward to next week he cannot afford to coast his way through this outing as he looks to push up the rankings.
Young has shown he knows how to get the job done winning in Panama on the Korn Ferry Tour last year and with his form trending as it is at the moment his odds look too juicy to ignore this week.
KRAMER HICKOK – 300/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up I am going to take a chance at big odds on Kramer Hickok.
Hickok has been hovering around in the lower reaches of the Fedex Cup rankings for several seasons now without really finding the consistency and next level to break in to the top 50.
Back in 2021 though it looked like his time might well have come as he produced a superb performance at the Travelers before losing out memorably to Harris English in a seven hole play-off.
While no doubt hugely disappointing to not get the win that week what that performance at TPC River Highlands told us again about Kramer is that he is at his best on shorter tracks where his accuracy can come to the fore and his lack of length is not punished, which on paper is what we have here. Something, which we have also seen from him in places like Colonial CC over the years.
On to this season then and there has been little in all honesty to get excited about from Hickok, with a best of 14th at the Honda. That effort was then followed a fortnight later by a 45th at the Valspar when he went out in the final group on Saturday before fading badly over the weekend. At the time though Kramer talked about swing changes he was implementing so it may be that opportunity came too soon for those changes to stand up under pressure.
Since that week in Tampa there have been more struggles for Kramer as until last time out at the Charles Schwab his best effort was a 40th at the Wells Fargo. Still though that week in Charlotte was encouraging for him at a venue that you wouldn’t see as playing to his strengths, and after missing the cut at the Byron Nelson he produced a solid 21st at Colonial ranking seventh in strokes gained off the tee and good old fashioned GIR, as well as 10th from tee to green and 11th in accuracy.
Away from current form and one other thing I like this week is that Hickok has some really positive history in Canada having been player of the year on the PGA Tour of Canada in 2017 winning twice including once in Ontario. He should certainly be comfortable north of the border then.
At the time of writing this preview Kramer is locked in a battle to grab one of the five spots available in Springfield, Ohio, for the US Open next week, having shot -4 in his opening round to sit within the qualifying spots. I am not going to get too hung up on whether he makes it or not though as either way it looks like another solid performance. In addition whether he makes it or not I expect him to be fully focused in Canada, needing the Fedex points as he does.
On that basis then with some positive shoots of late I am happy to risk Hickok at the odds on a course and in an area, which should be very much to his liking.
RYAN MOORE – 400/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 25th
Finally this week I am going to round off a speculative team with the most speculative play of the lot by throwing a dart at a player who hasn’t graced these pages for a fair while, Ryan Moore.
Once one of the most consistent performers on tour Moore has seen his fortunes slump considerably over the last few years as a combination of a debilitating back problem and his shorter hitting game becoming less suited to the modern test, have seen him slump down the world rankings.
A 21-22 season, which saw Ryan finish 186th in the Fedex Cup standings and fail to satisfy a medical exemption to keep his card sees the one time stand out amateur now playing on a career money list exemption and currently sat at 159th in the Fedex rankings this season he is clearly getting close to ‘last chance saloon’.
Not much to get overly excited about then on paper, however as stated already motivation this week is a key driver and Ryan clearly has that in spades at the moment.
Motivation is all well and good of course, however we need more than that and what leads me to Moore this week is a track, which really should play right to the strengths of his main skill sets.
To expand further and while Ryan’s results haven’t been too much to get excited about hidden in his numbers he sits fourth on tour in driving accuracy, 43rd in approach play and perhaps key for this week, ninth in approach play from 150-175 yds and 28th from 125-150, meaning he should be at home on these shorter par fours.
As is often the case though when a player is struggling, one of the main problem for Ryan has been on the greens this season, as he ranks 128th in this department and last time out he shot 71 69 to miss the cut at the Byron Nelson ranking first for accuracy over the first two days and 134th in putting. As we see so often though it only takes one good week on the ‘dance floor’ to turn things around and having been at his best on bentgrass over the years, hopefully he might some encouragement on this week’s surfaces.
There is no doubt Moore needs to pick and choose his venues these days and he is most likely to be a threat on shorter tracks which, can be picked apart with accuracy and favour low scoring, such his old stomping grounds like TPC Deere Run and Sedgefield CC, or indeed Pebble Beach where he was seventh earlier this year, and this weeks test strikes me as very much in that bracket.
Still only 40yrs old then you would like to think Ryan can get his career back on track and I am happy to risk him to have that ‘one big week’ he desperately needs on this shorter track, which should be right up his alley.