OAKVILLE, Ont. - As Thursday wore on at the RBC Canadian Open, it became clear that no one was going to catch the surprising Brendan Steele, who shot a 7-under 65 on the most complete morning of his season.
Steele, shooting low in his morning round, raved about the ideal summer weather and scoreable greens at Glen Abbey, as did Matt Kuchar, hot on Steele’s trail at six-under and coming off the British Open, where Muirfield’s sun-baked greens had played like marble floors.
Steele, a 30-year-old Californian, is 97th in the FedEx Cup standings and his only win on Tour came in San Antonio two years ago. Thursday, he consistently hit greens, and managed eight birdies and a bogey. But he wasn’t the only one scoring low.
Three others, including the field’s top-ranked star Kuchar, are just a shot back, while Hunter Mahan and David Lingmerth are two off the pace. Scott Gardiner and Scott Brown sit tied with Kuchar.
Eight others, including Bubba Watson, are at 4 under. The field’s other stars were further back, like Brandt Snedeker at 2-under and Billy Horschel at 1-under, fourth and sixth in the FedEx Cup standings respectively.
The low Canadian on the day was Brad Fritsch of Manotick, Ont., a 35-year-old PGA Tour rookie, who scored three-under 69 Thursday. It’s a player who has only made the cut at the Canadian Open once, back in 2011. Fritsch felt confident after the round, especially knowing he had played well in the afternoon, when the course was playing tougher than it had for the morning golfers.
“I feel like I’ve played well,” said Fritsch. “I feel like I hit the ball great off the tee. The stats won’t say it, but I think I missed five or six fairways, probably by a foot. So I feel like I’m playing well.”
The Canadians drawing the most buzz coming in were David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., and Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., playing together Thursday and drawing a sizeable crowd from the moment they teed off at 7:20 a.m. No Canadian has won the event since Pat Fletcher’s 1954 victory. DeLaet, sitting 25th in the FedExCup standings, and Hearn, now 48th, entered the tournament as the year’s best shots to do so.
Hearn was 2-under Thursday, after recently falling just shy of his first PGA Tour win two weeks ago, at the John Deere Classic. DeLaet, who is shaking off the fatigue from five weeks on the road, including his first Major, finished at even-par. Despite leading the PGA in greens in regulation, DeLaet hit only 11 greens and called his opening round ‘pretty Jekyll and Hyde’
“It was pretty scoreable out there today, but at the same time, I didn’t really shoot myself out of it,” said DeLaet.
Amateur Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont. also caused excitement late Thursday as he challenged for the low Canadian spot with an eagle on 16, but the 21-year-old ultimately finished one-under. Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., who hasn’t made the cut at a Canadian Open since 2009, was 1-over. Stephen Ames of Calgary was 2-over.
Steele may seem an unlikely leader for the $5.6 million tournament, with just three top 25s this season, a player who has also missed eight cuts in 20 starts.
“When you have a good round like that and you play that well, you kind of have everything going,” said Steele. “Today was probably the most complete round that I've had all year.”
Kuchar was atop the leaderboard for most of his morning round, until Steele took over. Kuchar finished fourth at the 2010 Canadian Open and has six Top 10 finishes this year - including two wins - and sits third in both the FedEx Cup standings and earnings. He made it clear he’s “looking for No.3”.
“I feel like last week, conditions were so challenging and so difficult at the British Open, so to come here and to play golf that is more friendly and more what we're used to the PGA Tour was great,” said Kuchar. “The conditions are spectacular.”
Other Canadian scores from round one: Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C. shot 71, Eric Banks of Truro, N.S. posted a 73, Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont. and Peter Laws of Mississauga, Ont. each shot 74, Riley Wheeldon of Comox, B.C. and Eugene Wong of North Vancouver finished with 75s, Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C. carded a 76, Victoria's Kevin Carrigan, Toronto's Albin Choi and Bryn Parry of North Vancouver all shot 77 while Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., had a 78 and Brian Hadley of Sarnia, Ont. carded a 79.