TORONTO – Long a sleepy, leafy retreat, St. George’s Golf and Country Club got a rude awakening in its first Canadian Open in 42 years.
The hilly, tree-lined layout figured to be a stern test with its thick rough, narrow fairways and undulating greens. Instead, it turned out to be a pushover that left players wondering what happened to the beast they expected.
“When I woke up and saw the scores, I was like, `I don’t know if they changed courses or what,”’ first-round leader Brent Delahoussaye said. “It just wasn’t playing the same that I thought it was in the practice round.”
The little-known Delahoussaye did the most damage to the Stanley Thompson-designed course’s reputation Thursday, shooting an 8-under 62 to match the tournament record. The 29-year-old former Clemson player whose lone professional victory came in the 2006 Hooters Tour Classic had an eagle, seven birdies and a bogey.
“Today, I was like, you know what, `I’m just going to go out there and play. This course doesn’t set up good for me, so I’m just going to go out there with a good attitude and not worry about it,”’ Delahoussaye said. “And look where I am now.”
He wasn’t alone.
Vance Veazey and Brock Mackenzie shot 64s, and Hunter Mahan, Dean Wilson, Charley Hoffman, Jimmy Walker, Rich Barcelo, Steve Wheatcroft, Spencer Levin, Daniel Chopra and Brian Stuard had 65s. Seventy players broke par and the 156-man field averaged 69.712.
“This golf course seems to be about putting it in the fairway and on the greens,” Veazey said. “You have to hit good shots into the greens because they have slope. And I had a lot of good looks with the putter.”
Four other players have shot 62s in the Canadian Open, the first three at Glen Abbey. Leonard Thompson set the record in 1981, Andy Bean matched it in 1983, both at a par of 71, and Greg Norman did it in 1986, when par was 72. Mahan had a 9-under 62 at Angus Glen in 2007.
“I wasn’t thinking about a course record or thinking about leading the tournament,” Delahoussaye said after hitting 13 of 14 fairways in regulation, 14 of 18 greens and needing only 24 putts. “I was just thinking about hitting shots. I just need to take that mentality and do it the next three days.”
Delahoussaye, a Q-school graduate making his 14th career PGA Tour start, also broke the course record of 64 set by Canadian George Knudson in 1968 in the last Canadian Open at St. George’s. In the final group off the ninth tee, Delahoussaye played the front nine – his first and last eight holes – in 6-under 28.
He was 3 under on his first two holes, hitting a 3-iron from 230 yards to 8 feet on the par-5 ninth to set up his eagle and holing a 14-footer on the par-4 10th.
“I was thinking, `Wow! This could be good,”’ Delahoussaye said.
He birdied the 12th, gave the stroke back with a bogey on the par-3 13th and birdied the 17th to get back to 4 under. He birdied Nos. 2, 5, 6, and 7 and closed with a par on the par-3 eighth.
Barcelo had nine birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey. He had five straight birdies on Nos. 4-8 and seven in an eight-hole stretch.
“Today was an extremely fun day to play golf,” Barcelo said. “The weather was nice, the golf course was set up great, the fans were fantastic. … It’s refreshing to see a setup where you have to hit good shots all day long.”
Canadian star Mike Weir shot a 72. Fighting tendinitis in his right arm, the 40-year-old Weir is trying to become the first Canadian winner in 56 years and first Canadian-born champion in 96 years.
“It actually felt a lot better today,” Weir said. “I don’t want to use an excuse like that. I just didn’t play well.”
Stephen Ames and Jon Mills topped the 18 Canadians at 67.
“I’m surprised how many good scores there are,” said Ames, a naturalized Canadian citizen from Trinidad and Tobago. “But the greens are very receptive.”
DIVOTS: Because of logistical problems, the players started on Nos. 1 and 9 instead of the usual first and 10th. … Pat Fletcher, born in England, was the last Canadian winner, taking the 1954 event at Point Grey in Vancouver. Carl Keffer is the only Canadian-born champion, winning in 1909 and 1914. Albert Murray, a Canadian also born in England, won in 1908 and 1913.