RE­PEAT CHAMP

Cana­dian Open won by Vegas

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - SCOTT STIN­SON Oakville sstin­son@postmedia.com

The peo­ple try­ing to save Glen Abbey Golf Club from be­ing turned into a hous­ing devel­op­ment should hit Jhonat­tan Vegas up for a do­na­tion.

A year after shoot­ing 64 on Sun­day to win the RBC Cana­dian Open, the 32-year-old Venezue­lan fired a fi­nal-round 65 to jump to the top of the leader­board, where he won with a play­off birdie over third-round leader Charley Hoff­man.

“I’m go­ing to be one of the big­gest voices to try to keep this course open,” Vegas said with a smile after his round. “Es­pe­cially if I keep win­ning here.”

Vegas, one of the longest driv­ers on tour, came to Canada hav­ing missed five straight cuts, but Glen Abbey proved to be just the tonic for his strug­gling game. His fi­nal round on a course that was soft and rel­a­tively for­giv­ing in­cluded three drives of more than 359 yards, including a 388-yard bomb the first time he played the 18th hole, in reg­u­la­tion.

“It’s magic, to be hon­est,” Vegas said after he es­caped the play­off with a birdie de­spite a drive into a fair­way bunker on the par-5 18th hole. His sec­ond shot, an eight-iron out of the bunker, thumped the rough col­lar of the sand trap but still car­ried more than 200 yards over the pond and landed on the green, be­fore rolling off the back. It missed hit­ting the lip of the bunker and stay­ing in the trap by about an inch.

In­stead, Vegas chipped his third shot to inches from the hole and tapped in.

“I knew I had to stay ag­gres­sive,” Vegas said of the neardis­as­ter out of the bunker on the famed 18th. “I knew I could pull off the shot. A lit­tle lucky, to be hon­est,” he said. “Some­times you need that to win.”

Hoff­man, who shot a fou­run­der 68, including a clos­ing birdie, to get into the play­off at 21-un­der with Vegas, couldn’t re­peat the trick. He didn’t have a shot at the green after a drive into the right bunkers, put a wedge into the back bunker and couldn’t hole out from the trap.

For the sec­ond year in a row, the win be­longed to Vegas, who had only four bo­geys all week. It was the first time he fin­ished in the top 10 since Fe­bru­ary and only the sec­ond time he had done so since he won here last year. Vegas will be back in 2018 to de­fend his ti­tle, and then he might want to chain him­self to a tree. Glen Abbey’s fu­ture be­yond next year re­mains un­cer­tain.

From the mo­ment play be­gan on Thurs­day in the 108th host­ing of Canada’s men’s na­tional open, it felt like the win­ner would be a masher of the golf ball. Glen Abbey, host­ing the tour­na­ment for a 29th time, can cause some trouble when it is play­ing hard and fast, but weeks of wet con­di­tions had left it soft. When a steady rain fell through much of the open­ing round, capped off with a thun­der­storm, that clinched it: The damp con­di­tions would al­low big hit­ters to bomb away with the driver with­out fear that their balls would skit­ter through the short grass and into the rough.

This meant, in turn, that length would be a tremen­dous ad­van­tage off the tee. For some­one like two-time RBC Cana­dian Open win­ner Jim Furyk, 200th in av­er­age driv­ing dis­tance on the PGA Tour, who played the open­ing two rounds with Dustin John­son and Vegas, it meant rou­tinely watch­ing his play­ing part­ners walk 50 yards past him to their balls.

It also meant that a stroll down the driv­ing range late on Sun­day, with the play­ers in the fi­nal groups warm­ing up, was to wit­ness moon shot after moon shot: Bran­don Hagy, Gary Wood­land, Robert Gar­ri­gus, Vegas, all guys among the top quar­ter of PGA Tour reg­u­lars in the power stats. (There was also Sea­mus Power, but he teed off a bit ear­lier on Sun­day.)

Ian Poul­ter ended up be­ing the lone bunter among those on the fi­nal leader­board. The English­man, play­ing in his first Cana­dian Open and not a power hit­ter, flashed a deadly put­ter, with eight birdies on Sun­day to climb to third place at 20-un­der.

Aside from the nor­mal sto­ry­lines of win­ners and losers, this par­tic­u­lar tour­na­ment also had a sep­a­rate story arc: how many times would it come back to Glen Abbey, and would the Cana­dian Open ever move to a spot in the golf cal­en­dar that would al­low it to draw more of a top-heavy field.

Over the course of the week, some an­swers were pro­vided. Golf Canada com­mit­ted to com­ing back to Oakville for 2018, but also con­firmed it is work­ing toward build­ing a new per­ma­nent home for the tour­na­ment some­where in the Toronto area, sup­ported by some part­ners and spon­sors with large pock­ets.

Golf Canada chief ex­ec­u­tive Lau­rence Ap­ple­baum also said the tour­na­ment is among those that could pos­si­bly move to a dif­fer­ent date as the PGA Tour shuf­fles its sched­ule in the com­ing years to push the FedEx Cup out of Septem­ber and into Au­gust. If the Cana­dian Open does man­age to move out of the shadow of the Bri­tish Open and into a more favourable date, it could change the con­ver­sa­tion on a tour­na­ment that for years now has strug­gled to avoid feel­ing like a lower-tier event, even as big a deal as it is in Canada.

Un­til then, what it tends to pro­duce is what it did at Glen Abbey this week: a leader­board with more than a few un­fa­mil­iar names, but some Sun­day fireworks that ul­ti­mately made for a fine show.

NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Jhonat­tan Vegas holds his tro­phy after his win at the RBC Cana­dian Open in Oakville on Sun­day.

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