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Scott Stinson: RBC Canadian Open landing Rory McIlroy is a sizable first stride to getting its groove back

Scott Stinson: RBC Canadian Open landing Rory McIlroy is a sizable first stride to getting its groove back
Sports
When the new date for the RBC Canadian Open was announced last spring at Glen Abbey, there was an understandable sense of giddiness about the place.

The swells in the room — various Golf Canada executives and counterparts at RBC — had finally cracked the riddle they had been working on for years: getting the country’s men’s national open away from the awful date immediately following the Open Championship on the other side of the Atlantic, which had become a de facto off-week for most of the world’s top golfers, and particularly those not receiving a sponsorship stipend from RBC.

Even if it had taken the PGA Tour blowing up its schedule for it to happen, this country’s men’s open and its fresh early June slot now stood a fighting chance of once again becoming a top-tier Tour event.

I will cop to a sense of relief myself, in that it meant that I wouldn’t have to write another column about the lousy July date, which along with stories about how no Canadian had won the tournament since Pat Fletcher, could now pretty much be reeled off from memory. (That win was in 1954, and I didn’t even have to ask Alexa.)

But even amid all the smiling faces at the Abbey, one question remained: had Golf Canada and RBC just swapped a poor July date for a poor June one? The new spot, coming the week prior to the U.S. Open, would still have challenges, as many pros like to do their preparation for a major away from actual tournament play.

We are still two-and-half months away from having a complete answer to that question, but the RBC Canadian Open received a fairly huge piece of news on Thursday when Rory McIlory, one of the few non-Tiger superstars in the sport, committed to the event for the first time in his career.

The importance was not lost on the tournament organizers, who announced the inclusion of the 29-year-old from Northern Ireland on the heels of his win at The Players Championship in Florida.

“He’s a global ambassador for golf like a very select few players are,” said Bryan Crawford, tournament director of the RBC Canadian Open. McIlroy is a four-time major winner and 15-time winner on the PGA Tour, but beyond those totals he is simply a recognizable name and face, the former curly haired teen phenom who hasn’t quite had the career that was envisaged by many but who is still a Ryder Cup stalwart and fan favourite. He’s a one-namer, along with Phil, Jordan, Sergio and maybe a few others on the tier below Tiger in terms of casual-fan awareness. Well below Tiger, but still.

On its own, the addition of McIlory to the field means the new date will be a win for the Canadian Open for this year at least. Crawford acknowledges that the calendar change, which also puts the tournament right after what is normally a top field at the Memorial in Ohio, has a lot to do with McIlroy’s decision. “There’s no question it’s due in large part to the change of date,” he said.

“We expect the field to be as deep as it has (ever) been,” Crawford said.

In recent years, the tournament has had Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino in Oakville as part of its early-week festivities. Each would reliably talk about its glory days, about the importance of a national open, but there was no escaping the fact that it was not what it once was. Tournament organizers had gone to considerable lengths to gussy the old girl up — Red and White Day! Hockey boards around one hole! Free concerts! — but that problem of the field was a sticking point.

McIlroy, at least, appears to have bought into the idea of contesting a tournament right in the meat of the PGA Tour schedule, coming amid a five-week run that includes two majors. If other one-name pros follow suit then the tournament will get that much more interesting for casual golf fans.

Crawford diplomatically talked around the Tiger question — he never commits early anyway — and Woods is very unlikely to play because he likes to tune up for majors at home, so there is little chance of seeing the repeat of 2000, where Tiger hit The Shot on the 18th at Glen Abbey and Golf Canada people still talk about the walk-up ticket sales like it was witnessing the seas part.

But, baby steps. On the road to getting back to its former prominence in the golf calendar, the RBC Canadian Open landing Rory McIlroy is a sizable first stride.

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