VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Kris Blanks has been to Vancouver before, usually just to visit his wife’s family, and never with his golf clubs.
The 38-year-old from Georgia is glad he brought the clubs this time.
Blanks shot a 3-under 67 to take a one-stroke lead after a tough first day at the Canadian Open on Thursday.
“When you are traveling with two kids and a suitcase full of Christmas presents the last thing you want to do is drag your golf clubs,” Blanks said.
If Blanks, whose wife Tami is from the Vancouver suburbs, can hang on for his first PGA Tour win, the presents might be a lot bigger on his next trip back to Canada’s west coast. But after only making the cut in half of his 22 events this season, the third-year PGA Tour pro knows there is a lot of golf – and likely a lot of bogeys – left this week.
“I can’t see any day this course is going to be easy,” Blanks said. “It’s definitely going to be national championship style, where pars are good, and when you get in trouble just make sure you don’t get anything over bogey.”
Only 21 players finished under par on the tight, tree-lined Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club. Blanks had the best round in the morning, after overnight rain made the tiny greens more receptive. It also made it that much harder to get out of thick rough many players were comparing to U.S. Open conditions.
Matt McQuillan was the lowest of 17 Canadians in the field with a 2-under 68, putting the 30-year-old PGA Tour rookie in a tie with 11 players, including World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els, one shot off the lead.
“This is the way a national open should be,” said Els, who missed his fourth cut in five events at last week’s British Open, and has yet to record a top-10 this season. “It should be played as tough as possible on a very stern test.”
Few players would argue the 7,010-yard course, located on a bank just above the ocean, was anything but, though it did play a little easier in the morning.
Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim and Lucas Glover – playing together in softer morning conditions – all shot 69 to finish in a group of nine that also included fellow Americans Sean O’Hair, Ben Crane, and Chad Campbell.
O’Hair got to 4 under in the afternoon before bogeys on his final three holes, including the par-5 seventh, which was playing as the easiest on the course.
“With the greens soft, you can stay aggressive, but at the same time that makes the rough healthy,” said Fowler. “This is as easy as it’s going to play.”
Easy wasn't a word being throw around, even though the rough had been trimmed.
“Thickest rough I’ve seen in two years,” Kevin Na said after an early 69.
Luke Donald was happy just to be among 14 players at even par. The world's No.1-ranked golfer double-bogeyed two of his first four holes, but battled back with five birdies, including three straight on his back nine, before a late bogey.
“It was a good grind back after a tough start,” said Donald. “They’re not the widest fairways and the penalty for missing them is very severe. The rough is as thick as we've seen all year and that adds a little pressure on the tee because you know you have to hit the fairway to have a chance to reach the green.”
Woody Austin, who holed out from 121 yards for eagle on No. 16 to get to 3 under, then missed a 15-foot par putt after driving into the rough on 18, didn’t mind.
“You cannot miss the fairway,” Austin said after having to chip out to it on his final hole. “It’s nice in this day and age where the best guy doesn’t win on a regular basis – it’s usually the guy who putts his butt off that wins – so it’s nice to play a golf course where you know who is playing the best.”
Blanks, who started on No. 10, was actually 1 over through 12 holes, but turned it around with back-to-back birdie putts on the next two. The 38-year-old from Georgia then holed out from the front bunker for an eagle on the 551-yard, par-5 seventh hole – his 16th of the day – to get to 3-under and take the lead.
“We had perfect scoring conditions with a little rain to soften the greens,” he said. “I felt fortunate to get the ball in the fairway and capitalize.”
Blanks hit 11 of 14 fairways, which led to 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
“You definitely have to be on the fairway and if that means laying back off the tee a little more than you normally do, it’s definitely more advantageous to hit a longer club from fairway than hacking out of the rough,” he said.
NOTES: England’s Paul Casey, ranked 15th in the world, opened with a 6-over 76. Canada’s Mike Weir, who has fallen to 475th in the rankings, shot 74. Louis Ooosthuizen, who won the 2010 British Open, was 5 over. … Els is using Dan Quinn, a former NHL player who was once captain of the hometown Vancouver Canucks, as his caddy this week for the first time this year. Quinn, who was seventh at last week’s American Century Championship celebrity tournament in Lake Tahoe, was on Els’ bag for half of last season. … Blanks parted ways with his caddy, A.J. Eathorne, a former LPGA player who grew up in British Columbia, in early May. Eathorne and Blanks were introduced by former NHL goalie Grant Fuhr, who also plays a lot of celebrity tour golf.