The Canadian Tour’s season-ending Great Waterway Classic in Gananoque, Ont., will feature a tournament within a tournament.
While each player in the field of 126 will be trying to win the event, which is in its first year and begins Thursday, three in particular will be jockeying for the top two spots on the circuit’s money list.
Matt Hill of Sarnia, Ont., stands atop the money list with $47,350 in winnings this year. He’s followed by Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., at $41,850 and Cory Renfrew of Victoria at $40,036.71.
The top two after play ends Sunday at Smuggler’s Glen Golf Course will receive the tour’s most coveted bonus prizes – a direct pass into the second stage of the PGA Tour’s three-stage qualifying tournament, or Q-school.
Getting to jump the queue is a big deal for Canadian Tour players looking to rise through the golf ranks. Q-school’s first stage is littered every year with talented casualties who had a bad week.
The second stage can be equally treacherous but success there means a ticket to the third stage, which guarantees status on the second-tier Web.com Tour and provides an opportunity to jump all the way to the top-tier PGA Tour.
Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., and Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., are two Canadian players who used their top-two finishes on the Canadian Tour’s money list to propel themselves to the next levels (Hadwin to the Web.com and DeLaet all the way to the PGA).
Hill, 23, who turned pro in 2010 after a standout amateur career that included eight U.S. college victories in the 2009 season and a National Collegiate Athletic Association championship title, will be hard to pass. According to the Canadian Tour, Renfrew needs to finish in the top two at Smuggler’s Glen and Gligic in the top three.
The most realistic race might be between Gligic and Renfrew for second spot. Just $1,813.29 separates them – the equivalent of a 14th-place finish.
The three rivals will able to keep their eyes on one another on Thursday and Friday. The tour has grouped them together for the first two rounds.
The players ranked fourth through sixth on the money list (Americans Andrew Roque, Chris Killmer and Matt Marshall) are not playing this week even though they could have mathematically reached No. 2, at least.
Hill and Renfrew, both winners this year on the eight-event Canadian Tour, are also vying for rookie of the year honours and perhaps player of the year kudos.
In the wider tournament, the field includes a handful of other promising young Canadians such as Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., and Eugene Wong of North Vancouver, B.C.
Wong, who turned pro this year, is coming off back-to-back victories. He stole the Canadian Tour Championship in Toronto on Aug. 26 for his first win as a pro by holing out his approach shot for eagle on the 72nd hole. He followed that a week later with a victory at the Vancouver Open, the biggest event on the Vancouver Golf Tour, again with last-hole heroics. He made a birdie while Calgarian Scott Stiles, who led by a stroke teeing off on the 72nd hole, made a double-bogey.
Added to the mix are Canadian Tour veterans Derek Gillespie of Oshawa, Ont., and Wes Heffernan of Calgary.
The biggest name teeing it up is Chris Baryla of Vernon, B.C. The Web.Com Tour winner had a stint on the PGA Tour in 2011. With the Web.com off this week, he has come north of the border to stay in game shape and continue his preparations for Q-school.
Baryla is grouped Thursday and Friday with former Web.com regular David Morland IV of North Bay.