Canadian Open lands Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson as headliners

OAKVILLE, Ont. — Bill Paul was like any other golf fan, watching as Brooks Koepka seized control on No. 16 at Shinnecock Hills to win the U.S. Open.

But as tournament director for the upcoming RBC Canadian Open, Paul was thrilled when he realized that four of the top five finishers at the major will be at Glen Abbey Golf Club next month. Koepka, runner-up Tommy Fleetwood, third-place finisher and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson as well as fifth place Tony Finau had all committed to play at the only Canadian stop on the PGA Tour.

“I was thinking ‘man, if this thing holds up, four of those top five guys are in our field,”’ said Paul on Thursday. “At that point Brooks hadn’t won, but he looked like he was going to be pretty steady and with that golf course it’s not like you weren’t going to run into a lot of birdies.

“So it ended up being great and we’ve got the U.S. Open champion which is pretty good.”

Golf Canada’s first list of entries for the July 26-29 event also includes world No. 13 Bubba Watson and No. 28 Ian Poulter of England.

Koepka is only the seventh player in history to win consecutive U.S. Opens, with Curtis Strange the last golfer to accomplish the feat 29 years ago. Koepka, Watson, Johnson and Poulter have combined for seven PGA Tour wins this season, with Watson winning the Travelers Championship last Sunday.

Players have until July 20 to confirm their entries for the event, which means Paul still has some calls to make.

One key player he’s already spoken to is Tiger Woods, who’s re-emerged as a threat in the PGA Tour this season. One of the early highlights of Woods’s career was his one stroke victory over Grant Waite in 2000 at Glen Abbey.

“Tiger, like with a lot of the guys, it’s not a hit-him-over-the-head kind of thing,” said Paul. “It’s a little bit of ‘What’s your schedule looking like? How are we feeling?’ Obviously, he has a plan on where he wants to play, and how he wants to do. If he’s not doing so well, everybody has an alternate schedule.

“Bottom line is it’s still a conversation and I suspect we’ll know what he’s going to do in the next week.”

Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., and Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., have also confirmed that they’ll represent their home nation at the Canadian Open.

Paul expects there will be as many as 19 Canadians in the field, but he still has to figure out which players he’ll give exemptions to.

“One of the biggest challenges of my job now is exemptions, and I mean that in a positive way,” said Paul. “Never have we had the depth of Canadians playing golf at all levels — male and female, so we’ve had the same issues for the CP Women’s Open — but I’m speaking on the RBC Canadian Open now.

“The depth of Canadians on the PGA Tour, the depth of Canadians on the Web.com, Canadians that are overseas. (…) We’ve got a lot of decisions to make.”

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