RBC CANADIAN OPEN: Though it will be difficult for fan and player alike to avoid looking ahead to next week’s showdown at Pebble Beach, we’ve got a good one on tap this week, as a surprisingly strong field has gathered north of the border for the 110th edition of the RBC Canadian Open.
Once a standalone tournament that was independent of the PGA Tour, this event has a long, rich history and counts among its champions some of the true legends of the game: Hagen, Snead, Nelson, Locke, Palmer, Trevino, Norman, Woods… the list goes on. Though it’s been hurt by its place on the schedule– which for the past few years has been the week following a major, while this year it’s the (slightly preferable) week before a major– the players enjoy this tournament, so some big names always show up. But this year– thanks in no small part to title sponsor RBC, I’m sure– the field is stronger than it’s been in quite some time, as 3 of the world’s top 4 are in attendance, including defending champion Dustin Johnson, in addition to players like Justin Thomas, Sergio Garcia, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson, and Henrik Stenson. The tournament organizers have to be thrilled with the turnout.
And we get a new venue this year… well, sort of. Glen Abbey Club in the Toronto suburb of Oakville has hosted this tournament more than anyplace else, including six times in the past seven years, but this year the event moves to Hamilton Golf & Country Club for the sixth time overall and the first time since 2012. A par-70 the measures just a shade under 7,000 yards, Hamilton certainly won’t kill you with length, and the last two players to have won there (Scott Piercy in ’12, Jim Furyk ’06) would never be confused for bombers. Finding the fairway is what’s important, as attacking the small, severely-sloped greens from the rough makes scoring extremely difficult. It’s all about accuracy and precision this week.
But if you’re looking for bombers, don’t worry… the top of the market is chock-full of them. You have DJ at 6.6, Koepka at 9.4, McIlroy at 11.5, Thomas at 19.5… all of those guys are a threat to win anytime they tee it up, obviously, but the lack of course familiarity among that crowd– and the fact that they may only be able to hit 3-4 drivers per round, negating one of their biggest advantages– has me looking elsewhere this week. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Webb Simpson (22.0)- Simpson has been heating up over the last couple of months, with top-25 finishes in 4 of his past 6 starts and a T29 at the PGA Championship last time out. Though he’s never played Hamilton in competition– like many players, this tournament hasn’t been a regular stop for Simpson in years past– he generally thrives on courses where precision with the short and mid-irons is prioritized over length off the tee, and Hamilton certainly fits the bill. As is always the case with Simpson, it will come down to putting, but it’s worth noting that he’s had some of his best performances on bent/poa greens like the ones he’ll see this week, and he’s actually rolled the rock pretty well this season, ranking 28th on Tour in one-putt percentage and first from 3-feet and in. Based on recent form and a course that should be a perfect fit, Simpson should be considered one of the favorites this week and is worth a bet at better than 20/1.
Bud Cauley (68.0)- Cauley’s career has been filled with more lows than highs thus far, as he’s battled injuries and an occasionally balky putter while toiling near the cut-line most weeks. He’s shown flashes of greatness, though– when he gets it going, the birdies pile up in a hurry. We saw glimpses last week, as Cauley poured in 19 birdies over four rounds to tie for 9th at the Memorial, his best finish of the year. Now he comes to a place that fits him nicely, as he showed the last time in the Canadian Open was held at Hamilton, in 2012, when a 2nd-round 63 propelled him to a 4th-place finish. Cauley is still looking for his first PGA Tour win, and this seems like a clear opportunity– where good form meets the right course. I’m happy to take a chance on him this week at a price like 68.0.
Joaquin Niemann (138.0)- Niemann’s best finish since last November is a T27. That’s the bad news. The good news is that 27th-place showing came at the Memorial last week, and that came on the heels of a solid performance at the Charles Schwab Classic. In other words, it feels like Niemann is slowly starting to turn the corner, and the stats back that up– since the beginning of March, he ranks in the top-25 on Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green, and he’s been particularly good with the irons, ranking 7th in approaches from 100-125 yards, 12th from 175-200 yards, and 18th from 200-255 yards. Hamilton is a course that requires precision with the irons, so it should be a good fit. I realize Niemann has been slumping this year, but there are signs that the fog is lifting, and it’s only a matter of time before someone with his talent breaks out in a big way. I can’t turn away from him at such long odds.