MONTREAL — It was 60 years ago that Pat Fletcher won the Canadian Open.
No other Canadian has won the national open golf tournament since then, but that could change when the PGA Tour event returns this week to Royal Montreal, the tree-lined course that played host to the 2007 Presidents Cup.
Mike Weir, Graham DeLaet and David Hearn are among the 19 home-grown players looking to end the losing run.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 60 years,” Weir said Wednesday after playing only nine holes of a rain soaked pro-am event. “We have more capable players in the field now and I think we’re going to see it going forward.
“It’s going to end at some point, so hopefully, if not myself, it’s another Canadian that gets it done this week. It would be nice to get the streak over so we don’t have to talk about it any more.”
Winning the Canadian Open has never been more accessible thanks to a less than desirable date — just after the British Open, which ended with Rory McIlroy’s impressive victory on Sunday at Royal Liverpool.
Most top golfers don’t want to play the week after the British, although the Canadian Open helps those who do by laying on a charter flight to get them in early to readjust to the Eastern time zone.
Only eight of the top 50 players on the Tour’s FedEx Cup standings are in the field, although they include third-place Dustin Johnson and fourth-place Matt Kuchar.
McIlroy is not there. Neither are 2000 Canadian Open champion Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson.
But thanks to RBC’s sponsorship of Tour regulars — Kuchar, last year’s winner at Glen Abbey Brandt Snedeker, two-time champion Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald and others — and the presence of nine past champions, there is at least a competitive field.
For Weir, an eight-time Tour winner, winning at home would be a dream.
“This is my 24th Canadian Open, so I’ve been at it a long time,” the 44-year-old Weir said. “But ever time you come back it’s special.
“It was the first professional event I watched live as a kid. I still remember doing a junior clinic with Andy Bean and Tom Kite and being one of the kids on the range that got to walk up there and get close to those guys. That really spurred my interest in professional golf.”
A strong showing would boost Weir’s chances of making the FedEx Cup playoffs. He is 128th with four weeks left in the playoff race and needs to get into the top 125.
It is also a special event for Hunter Mahan.
The American was the 36-hole leader of last year’s Canadian Open when he got the call that wife was about to give birth to their first child, a daughter. Mahan immediately withdrew to fly home to Dallas to attend the birth.
Snedeker fired a 63 in the third round and held on to win.
“It’s one of those things you talk about with golfers, what if you were in the lead and you had to go home on Saturday or Sunday,” said Mahan. “It’s one of those crazy things you talk about and discuss with your family or your wife, but most of the time, it never happens.
“It’s kind of neat that we have the video of it all happening and then the newspaper clippings and all that, so it will be a fun story to show her and tell her about how she entered the world.”
Snekeder said he was on the seventh hole at Glen Abbey when he saw Mahan’s name come off the leader board.
“I started putting two and two together,” he said. “I was playing a great round of golf. It was a fortunate break for myself. Hunter was playing great. He would have been a tough guy to catch over the weekend.
“I did follow through and we made sure we sent a coupe of nice gifts to the Mahan’s for baby Zoe. It’s something we’ll probably both remember the rest of our lives.”
Mahan said he was happy to be back in Canada, especially at Royal Montreal where he and Furyk were part of a U.S. squad that thrashed Weir and the International team. Returning Internationals include Els, Vijay Singh, K.J. Choi, Geoff Ogilvie and Stuart Appleby.
The Bodog gambling site has Johnson, Furyk and Kuchar as the betting favourites at 12-1, with DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., as the eighth favourite at 25-1.
DeLaet’s pro career may have been saved by a victory on the Canadian Tour in 2008 at St-Raphael, a short drive from Royal Montreal. Now he hopes to get a PGA Tour title in the same neck of the woods.
“My game feels a lot closer (to top form) than it probably looks,” said DeLaet, currently 31st in FedEx Cup standings. “You always know deep down when you’re playing well, and hopefully I can just clean that up a little and this can be the breakout week.”
Furyk, who won in 2006 and 2007, is coming off a 65 on Sunday to finish fourth in the British Open, but now has to play on a different continent and a very different course.
While Royal Montreal is often called “traditional,” Furyk said that only fits the tees and the fairways. The recently redone greens he considers modern and could be a key factor once play begins.
With heavy rain on Wednesday, the course will be soft and scores may be low.
“What this golf course requires of you is the dead opposite of what you’d see in links golf,” said Furyk. “And the rain is going to spread the gap even farther.”