FIRST ROUND CANA­DIAN OPEN

Macken­zie Hughes of Dun­das

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - TERI PECOSKIE OAKVILLE —

was the lead­ing Cana­dian con­tender dur­ing the first round of play at Oakville’s sto­ried Glen Abbey Golf Club Thurs­day. The 26-year-old shot 5-un­der dur­ing the na­tional cham­pi­onship’s open­ing day, which was cur­tailed by rain . He heads into Fri­day’s sec­ond round two shots off the lead in a 16-way tie for 17th place.

Con­sider it a sign of how far Macken­zie Hughes has come since his last ap­pear­ance at the Cana­dian Open that, af­ter shoot­ing 5-un­der in the first round, his Twit­ter feed didn’t blow up.

“It’s weird,” he laughed. “I feel like I’m a pretty ex­pe­ri­enced pro now, and it’s not like every­one’s like ‘Oh my God, this is crazy.’ It’s like ‘Macken­zie’s play­ing well, this is great,’ and hope­fully I’ll keep it go­ing.”

The 26-year-old from Dun­das fired a 67 at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville on Thurs­day — the top score among the field’s 17 Cana­di­ans on an open­ing day cut short by rain and dark­ness. He goes into Fri­day’s sec­ond round in a 16-way tie for 17th place, two shots off the lead.

“I put my­self in a pretty good spot,” he said.

Hughes played in the Cana­dian Open as an am­a­teur in 2012 and as a pro­fes­sional in ’13. He missed the cut both times.

In the years since, he’s grad­u­ated col­lege, won an event on the Web.com Tour, got­ten mar­ried and earned his PGA Tour card. And he showed he could beat some of the best in the world with a win at the RSM Clas­sic.

In short, he’s changed. And so has his ap­proach to the Cana­dian Open. “It’s not like a one-off week,” he said. “Be­fore, when I played in the Cana­dian Open, it was like the big­gest tour­na­ment of my life ev­ery time. Now, it’s a huge deal. But I’ve played in ma­jors, so I’m just a bit more com­fort­able be­ing out on the course and it makes a huge dif­fer­ence.”

Hughes teed off at 8 a.m. with vet­eran Ernie Els and Tom Hoge, who was a re­place­ment in the group­ing. Amer­i­can Scott Piercy, the 2012 Cana­dian Open cham­pion, with­drew early Thurs­day — a PGA of­fi­cial said it isn’t clear why.

The trio started on the back nine where Hughes, wet with rain, birdied the par-4 10th hole and bo­geyed the par-4 17th. The sun was peek­ing through the clouds by the time he reached the 1st hole — an­other par-4.

He birdied it, too, af­ter a re­mark­able re­cov­ery from be­hind a tree, then fin­ished up with birdies on the par-5 2nd, par-3 4th and par-4 5th.

In the af­ter­math, he de­scribed his best round at the Cana­dian Open as meet­ing ex­pec­ta­tions and “mostly stress free.”

“I made one lit­tle hic­cup on the 17th hole — missed a short putt — but other than that, it was pretty rock solid. Lots of fair­ways and gave my­self some re­ally good looks,” he added.

For Hughes, who is cur­rently 26th in the FedEx Cup stand­ings, the key now is to not do too much — his words — “just go out there and hit one shot at a time.” Yet, he’s also think­ing big pic­ture. A win, or some­thing like it, would go a long way to­ward lock­ing up a spot in the Tour Cham­pi­onship — some­thing he said would be a “real thrill” for his first year on tour. It might even get him back in the mix for a spot in the Pres­i­dent’s Cup.

“I would prob­a­bly need a win at this point,” said Hughes, who was 28th in the in­ter­na­tional stand­ings to start the week­end. “I be­lieve I’m play­ing well enough to do that, it’s just win­ning is re­ally dif­fi­cult. If it hap­pened, it would be amaz­ing. But I think I’m go­ing to have a few more chances in the fu­ture to be on the Pres­i­dent’s Cup team and I’ll just keep plug­ging away and see if it hap­pens.”

FRANK GUNN, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

GRA­HAM PAINE, METROLAND

MacKen­zie Hughes of Dun­das is happy af­ter his first round at Glen Abbey Thurs­day: “I put my­self in a pretty good spot.”

GRA­HAM PAINE, METROLAND

Fresh off his sec­ond place fin­ish at the Bri­tish Open, Matt Kuchar carded a 1-un­der 71 Thurs­day.

NATHAN DENETTE, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Cana­dian Adam Had­win eyes his putt on the first hole.

NATHAN DENETTE, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Dustin John­son ac­knowl­edges crowd af­ter a birdie on the sev­enth hole.

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