OAKVILLE, Ont. — Even though half the field had yet to play on Thursday, the first round of the 2013 RBC Canadian Open was largely decided by noon.
Brendan Steele held on to his early clubhouse lead to win the first round of the Canadian Open after shooting a 7-under 65, with no golfer in the afternoon grouping able to crack the top five of the $5.6-million PGA Tour event.
Joe Affrunti came closest. His 4-under 68 performance tied him for seventh.
“Today was probably the most complete round that I’ve had all year, so that was kind of nice,” said Steele.
“Didn’t miss many greens, didn’t hit many shots off line, and I was able to roll a few putts in.”
The 30-year-old Steele played consistent golf over the par-72, 7,253-yard Glen Abbey Golf Course, only bogeying the par-4 ninth hole. Steele had eight birdies, five on the front nine alone.
Scott Gardiner, Matt Kuchar and Scott Brown all tied for second, one shot off the pace.
Gardiner was tied for first after eagleing on the par-3 15th hole, but he bogeyed on the next hole to drop back into a tie with Kuchar and Brown.
“Actually, didn’t hit that bad a drive on 16, and went left and got stuck behind a tree and had to lay up,” said Gardiner. “And then I hit a pretty good (shot), I missed a four foot putt. That was a struggle, but the rest of the shots I was fairly happy with. But then a couple of the tee shots there on the last.”
Ottawa’s Brad Fritsch was the top Canadian after a 3-under 69 performance. He birdied his final three holes to pass David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., on the leaderboard. Hearn finished 2 under.
“I think I hit less than 50 per cent of the fairways, but I think that’s just the nature of this golf course,” said Fritsch. “I looked like I got some horrendous bounces. When I was expecting one way, it went the other, and that led to a little bit of frustration. But I stayed patient.”
Fritsch was pleased with his performance, especially with an afternoon start time on a day where temperatures reached 23 C.
“I made an unforced bogey on No. 2, which is a birdie hole. Got off to a bad start,” said Fritsch. “But I made six birdies. So out here in the afternoon, that’s pretty good when 156 players have been on the greens already.”
David Lingmerth and Hunter Mahan tied for fifth after going 5-under par.
“I did okay in my opening nine. Just didn’t hit it great,” said Mahan, who started his round at No. 10. “Didn’t give myself a lot of great looks at birdie, but certainly on 1 and 2, I got some momentum on my side and hit it good after that.
“Gave myself a lot of good looks and the greens were rolling true. It’s in great shape right now. In the morning we’ll have perfect conditions.”
Many notable names in the tournament showed signs of fatigue after last week’s British Open.
Scott Piercy, last year’s Canadian Open champion, finished in a group tied for 41st after going 1 under. Ernie Els was also in that group, while two-time Canadian Open champion Jim Furyk shot at even par to tie for 69th.
Luke Donald (73) was 1 over and Graeme McDowell (76) was in a group tied for 141st at 4 over.
“It was fun to be out here. It was perfect conditions,” said Kuchar. “I feel like last week, conditions were so challenging and so difficult at the British Open to come here and to play golf that is more friendly and more what we’re used to the PGA Tour was great.”
Amateur Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., almost finished the day as the top Canadian after eagleing on the 16th hole. Unfortunately, he bogeyed on his final two holes to finish at 1-under 71 in a tie with Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C.
Still, Conners was the top amateur on the day.
“It was great. I had myself in some tricky spots but was able to save shots by getting the ball up and down and making some key putts,” said Conners. “Felt pretty good out there. Disappointed to bogey the last two, had a real nice round going but overall still a great round.”
Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., struggled in the morning group, triple bogeying on the par-4 14th hole. He recovered on his final five holes to finish the round at par.
He wasn’t the only Canadian to have trouble on the course. Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., and Eric Banks of Truro, N.S., both shot a 73, while Calgary’s Stephen Ames, Peter Laws of Milton, Ont., and Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., all had a 74.
Riley Wheeldon of Comox, B.C., and Eugene Wong of North Vancouver, B.C., tied after shooting identical scores of 3-over 75. Amateur Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., shot a 76.
Victoria’s Kevin Carrigan, Toronto’s Albin Choi and Bryn Parry of North Vancouver, B.C., all shot 77, while Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., had a 78. Brian Hadley of Sarnia, Ont., finished with a 79.