Toronto Star

Party like it’s 1954?

Hearn could become first Canuck to win Open in 61 years,

- Dave Feschuk

There’d be pressure and nerves and maybe the occasional heart palpitatio­n if David Hearn found himself in this position in Phoenix or Florida or any other of pro golf’s habitual ports of call.

Hearn, who is 36 years old, has been playing on the PGA Tour for most of a decade without a victory. And he’d never before held the 54-hole lead at a Tour event until he shot a 68 on Saturday afternoon at Glen Abbey, a score that gave him a two-shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round.

If this was happening at the John Deere Classic, say, or the Crowne Plaza Invitation­al, Saturday night might have been restless enough for a man sleeping on such a lead on the world’s richest tour for the first time.

Of course the tournament Hearn currently commands, the RBC Canadian Open, isn’t just any PGA Tour event — not for a son of Brantford who has been dreaming of winning his national championsh­ip since he was a kid. And should Hearn prevail on Sunday at Glen Abbey, it won’t be classified as the typical debut triumph.

Victory here, of course, would make Hearn the first Canadian to win our national championsh­ip since Pat Fletcher in 1954. It would make him the first Canadian-born winner of the title in 101 years.

So all that’ll be on the line when Hearn tees off in the final group with Bubba Watson on Sunday afternoon is the winner’s prize of $1.04 million (U.S.) — that and a shot at the eternal admiration of 35 million Canadians.

“Yeah, there’ll be pressure out there,” Hearn said. “But there’s pressure to win any tournament on the PGA Tour.”

Certainly there is. And if Hearn can win on Sunday, it won’t go down as some weak-field fluke job. Some of the world’s best players sit uncomforta­bly in his rear view. Hearn’s Sunday playing partner, Watson, is the world No. 3, not to mention a two-time Masters champion who’s won eight times on the PGA Tour. And Watson is a deadly come-from-behind artist, closing out no less than six of his PGA Tour wins after trailing in the final round.

“He plays a game with which nobody else on this tour is familiar,” Hearn said, speaking of Watson’s moon-shot power attack, which stands in stark contrast to Hearn’s conservati­ve, precision-based approach. “Hopefully I’ll make some birdies and David will beat Goliath, I guess.”

Hearn framing himself as a massive underdog isn’t so much about polite Canadian modesty as it is about the honest truth.

Also two shots back is Jason Day, the world No. 9 who’s won three times on the Tour and finished second in three majors. And lurking four shots off the pace is Jim Furyk, a two-time Canadian Open champion and a 17-time Tour winner currently ranked seventh on the planet.

That’s a lot of heft to hold off for Hearn, the world No. 128 whose biggest career victory came at the minor-league Nationwide Tour’s Alberta Classic back in 2004.

And at least one piece of history suggests that the home-crowd advantage could almost play as a disadvanta­ge. For pro golfers who spend the vast majority of their rounds playing before nobody, or smattering­s of hushed observers, the adoring mob can be oppressive.

How else do you explain Mike Weir’s failure to close the deal here in 2004? Weir was a far more accomplish­ed pro than Hearn when he took his best shot at becoming Fletcher’s successor at the Abbey. He had won the Masters the year before. He’d won on Canadian soil, at Surrey, B.C.’s Air Canada Championsh­ip, back in 1999.

But the crowd weighed on Weir that day, figurative­ly and literally. After Weir made a birdie on No. 10, a fan good-naturedly put an arm around Weir’s neck as Weir jogged to the next tee. It was both a security breach and an awkward, unexpected bit of contact, and Weir would later say it caused him a neck injury that bothered him for years.

“The thing with the fan broke my concentrat­ion more than anything,” Weir told Golf Magazine a few years back. “I learned to be prepared for anything.”

That’s what Hearn needs to be prepared for — anything. Also: beerfueled countrymen singing impromptu renditions of O Canada and possibly attempting to hug him.

If Hearn has one thing going for him, it’s a putter that’s working beautifull­y. He’s leading the tournament in strokes gained putting — a statistic indicates he has picked up more than nine strokes on the field with his work on the greens. His tee game hasn’t been as sharp; he found the rough on eight of 14 holes on Saturday. And certainly his lead could have been bigger. Hearn had a four shot lead as he played the 17th hole. But after hitting his drive in the fairway, he knocked his approach into the front sand trap, this before going bunker to bunker with his third shot to set up his first bogey of the day. In the span of about a minute, as Watson sank a birdie on No. 18, Hearn’s advantage was cut in half.

Still, a two-shot lead is better than none. And if Hearn has another thing going for him, it’s that he appears to be embracing the atmosphere while smilingly acknowledg­ing the butterflie­s. More than once he came off a green to high-five the waiting kids, at one point handing his golf ball to a girl in a purple dress, who beamed at the thrill.

“It’s much fun to play in front of these hometown crowds,” Hearn said. “It was a dream come true . . . I kind of fed off the energy.”

So that’s the strategy on Sunday: To feed off the moment before it gobbles him up like so many chasing Goliaths. All 35 million Canadians can do is wish him good luck — and save the good-natured pats on the back for the victory parade.

 ?? PAUL CHIASSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? David Hearn leads Bubba Watson and Jason Day by two shots after 54 holes at Glen Abbey.
PAUL CHIASSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS David Hearn leads Bubba Watson and Jason Day by two shots after 54 holes at Glen Abbey.
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 ?? PAUL CHIASSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Brantford’s David Hearn is trying to be the first Canadian to win the Canadian Open since 1954 — and the first Canadian-born player to win in 101 years.
PAUL CHIASSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS Brantford’s David Hearn is trying to be the first Canadian to win the Canadian Open since 1954 — and the first Canadian-born player to win in 101 years.

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