'Legacy event': Canadian Open hopes to maintain momentum amid evolving PGA Tour schedule
After a two-year hiatus, the PGA Tour's Canadian Open roared back with full force in 2022.
There was the raucous 'rink hole' — a par-three that featured hockey boards, helmets as tee markers and volunteers dressed as refs.
There were Canadians lingering in contention, and an eventual sixth-place finish from Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont.
And, of course, a scintillating finish featuring three top players duking it out on the back nine.
Superstar Rory McIlroy closed with three straight birdies to win the tournament for a second straight time, passing LIV Golf commissioner Greg Norman on the all-time wins list in the process — a milestone made especially notable with the rival tour's debut event occurring in London the same weekend.
It was announced on Monday that McIlroy will aim for a three-peat at the 2023 event, which begins June 8 at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto.
WATCH | McIlroy defends Canadian Open title in 2022 with big final round:
World No. 6 and reigning U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick will also be in attendance, along with fellow top-25 players Cam Young, Sam Burns, Sahith Theegala, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry.
A strong Canadian contingent includes three winners this season — Conners, Mackenzie Hughes and Adam Svensson — plus Nick Taylor, Adam Hadwin and Taylor Pendrith. Mike Weir, who won the Masters 20 years ago, will also play.
No Canadian has won the national open since Pat Fletcher in 1954. Hughes, of Dundas, Ont., said he hopes someone can break that curse.
"Obviously I hope it's me, but if it's not me, I hope it's one of the guys," he said. "Just super exciting to come home once a year. We get the rock star treatment and just kind of feel like we're walking on clouds."
Squeezed into busy schedule
But despite 2022's excitement, the event itself hasn't exactly received that same treatment from the PGA Tour.
In response to the threat of LIV, the Saudi-backed runaway tour that lured the likes of major champions Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka with loads of money, the PGA Tour altered its schedule by marking 13 "designated events" with at least $20 million US purses and mandatory attendance for top players.
For 2023, the Canadian Open was not only left off that list, but it also received a tough spot on the schedule, with one designated event immediately preceding it and two more — including the U.S. Open the very next week — on tap the two weeks after.
Fitzpatrick showed the potential benefit of playing in Canada last year when he finished 10th the week before going on to win his first career major.
"If the same could happen this year, I'd be very happy," he said.
In 2024, designated events will include the four majors, the Players' Championship and the three playoff tournaments in addition to eight others — including four that have reportedly already been determined.
It's up to tournament organizers now to prove the Canadian Open is worthy of one of those final four designated slots.
PGA Tour president Tyler Dennis called it a "legacy event."
"It's just always going to be core to the PGA Tour for what it means to have competitive success out here. We expect it to play a significant role in our future," he said. "I think this tournament has all the ingredients of success."
'We love the momentum'
The Canadian Open is also distinct as one of few PGA Tour-sanctioned national opens. The U.S., British and Scottish opens are all run by different entities. Golf's Triple Crown, achieved only by Lee Trevino and Tiger Woods, includes winning in Canada, England and the U.S. in the same year.
Golf Canada president Laurence Applebaum said he's "proud" of what the tournament has become.
"The third-oldest tournament in the world in hosting a true national open, with open qualifying, with a full field, with real competitive tension, has really been the DNA of this event," he said.
"And so I sit here with real candour and just say that we love our event, we love the momentum we're on and we're incredibly happy with the relationship and the outlook that we have with the PGA Tour."
Another marquee men's golf event is headed to Canada in 2024, when Royal Montreal will host the Presidents Cup — a battle between Team USA and the best non-European players.
Conners and Pendrith were the lone Canadians to make the 2022 team, but with the event on home soil and Weir as team captain, the pressure to play well in advance should be ramped up.
"Us Canadian guys have [it] on the calendar marked in red and circled three or four times because it's gonna be really, really fun," Hughes said. "We just don't get a chance to compete on a stage like that in Canada very often."
'Rink hole' returns
Meanwhile, the Canadian Open will continue leaning into its uniqueness by recreating the 'rink hole' on 14 at Oakdale and hosting a concert series featuring the Black Eyed Peas and Alanis Morisette.
The golf itself at Oakdale should also provide some intrigue. The course's three nines are being blended for the event to play as a 7,264-yard par-72 course. And organizers are extending the length by adding three new tee boxes and turning a pair of par-fives into par-fours for the pros.
Most important for the atmosphere, however, are the fans.
Last year, swaths followed McIlroy up the 18th fairway as he strutted towards victory. It was a scene reminiscent of Woods at the 2019 Masters or Mickelson at the 2021 PGA Championship — pure exuberance.
It's what the Canadian Open is hoping to showcase once more.