HAMILTON, Ont. — Here we go again.
Adam Hadwin picked up where he left off at the RBC Canadian Open, shooting a 4-under 66 at Hamilton Golf and Country Club on Thursday to put himself in the mix. The native of Abbotsford, B.C., was four shots behind leader Scott Piercy and in good position to contend over the weekend for the second straight year.
About the only thing Hadwin didn’t like about his opening round was the fact most of the spectators gravitated to the marquee groups rather than his own.
“It’s a long week, so they’ll have time,” said Hadwin.
The 24-year-old is supremely confident — “It’s a bit of a cockiness,” he concedes — particularly when he gets on a stage like this one. Hadwin has been the top Canadian at this event for two years running, playing in the final group at Shaughnessy a year ago and finishing tied for fourth.
He’s had an up-and-down season on the minor-league Web.com Tour this year but something clicked once he returned to the third-oldest championship in golf.
“It seems every time we hit the end of July, I kind of springboard my game back into shape,” said Hadwin.
It was certainly the kind of day to make it happen as Hamilton was left almost defenceless by rain that fell overnight and throughout the round. Piercy’s 62 matched the competitive course course record at Hamilton — Warren Sye shot that number in the third round of the 1991 Ontario Amateur — and included eagles on both of the par-5s.
The 33-year-old American finished third in his last start at the John Deere Classic and gave himself plenty of looks at birdie on Thursday.
“I hit it solid out there,” he said. “I think I only missed a couple greens, and ball-striking around here with the rough being so penal is a must to shoot well.”
Piercy held a one-shot lead over Greg Owen and William McGirt (63) and was two shots clear of Robert Garrigus (64). A group of seven players opened with 65, including 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and 2004 Canadian Open winner Vijay Singh.
The course was a soggy mess by the end of the first round. Players were allowed to lift, clean and place their balls on the fairway and 94 men were at par or better when the day ended.
“I woke up this morning and thought the British Open was a week too early looking out the window,” said Schwartzel. “It wasn’t very pleasant weather.”
Piercy broke free of a crowded leaderboard with birdies on three of his final five holes, punctuated with a 10-foot putt at the last. Even though his only PGA Tour victory came at last year’s Reno-Tahoe Open, he has high expectations for himself.
“I’m kind of a perfectionist in an imperfect game,” said Piercy.
Hadwin can identify.
There’s nothing he wants more than to earn a regular spot on the PGA Tour, where he’s made the cut in all six events he’s played over his career. Hadwin was one shot out of the lead entering the final round at last year’s Canadian Open and would have earned a two-year tour exemption with a victory.
On Thursday, he rebounded from a double bogey at No. 11 with back-to-back birdies before making a disappointing bogey on the par-5 17th.
“I shot 4 under and I was 1 over on the par-5s today,” said Hadwin. “So that’s pretty good confidence going into tomorrow knowing that if I play those par-5s pretty well I’m going to play pretty well.”
He’s one of 23 players who entered this event looking to become the first homegrown player to win it since Pat Fletcher in 1954. A number of them got off to promising starts.
David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., and Brad Fritsch of Manotick, Ont., each had 68s while Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., amateur Albin Choi of Toronto and David Markle of Shelburne, Ont., posted 69s. The group at even par included Calgary’s Stephen Ames, Matt Hill of Bright’s Grove, Ont., Matt McQuillan of Kingston, Ont., and Victoria’s Cory Renfrew.
“I think the Canadians really want to see the other Canadians do well,” said Hearn. “This is a big deal for us, and I’d love to see more than one guy have a chance to win it. And who knows what’s going to happen.”