Defending champion Rory McIlroy embraces tradition at Canadian Open

Rory McIlroy can’t help but shake his head and sigh over the emergence of a new men’s professional circuit that hopes to rival the PGA Tour.

McIlroy will defend his crown at the RBC Canadian Open at St. George’s Golf and Country Club starting on Thursday. He said it’s unfortunate the inaugural event of the LIV Golf Invitational will be held opposite the Canadian Open, the third oldest continuously running golf championship in the world.

“I’m a self-confessed golf nerd, historian, traditionalist. Most of the oldest events in our game are national opens,” said McIlroy, who said he has won five national opens, six if you include Hong Kong’s. “One of the great things about our game is you can in some way compare yourself to historical figures, figures that I’ve never met before.

“I look at a trophy that my name’s on and Walter Hagen’s name is on there or Gene Sarazen or Byron Nelson or Ben Hogan or Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or whoever it is, and I think that’s one of the coolest things about our sport that not a lot of other sports can sort of tap into.”

‘Something money can’t buy’

After McIlroy won the Canadian Open in 2019 at Hamilton Golf and Country Club, the national championship was poised to return to Toronto. However, travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic derailed that, with the tournament being cancelled twice.

The LIV Golf Invitational is hosting its first event this week at the Centurion Club outside London, England. The Saudi-backed league is offering large sums of guaranteed money to some of the biggest names in men’s golf.

The most notable player to jump ship may be 2018 Canadian Open champion Dustin Johnson, who resigned his PGA Tour membership on Tuesday. Several outlets reported on Wednesday that major champions Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed would also likely defect by the end of the week.

McIlroy said Wednesday that he wouldn’t put money ahead of the opportunity to play against the best golfers in the world.

“You look at the Canadian Open trophy and you look at the names that are on that. You’re putting your name in history by winning these national championships,” said McIlroy, ranked No. 8 in the world. “Honestly, it’s something that money can’t buy or it’s something that money can’t give you.”

WATCH | McIlroy wins 2019 Canadian Open:

Golf Wrap: McIlroy wins Canadian Open after dominating final round

Rory McIlroy cruised to victory at the Canadian Open by finishing 7-strokes clear of 2nd place. Adam Hadwin was the top Canadian at 12-under.

Five of the top 10 players in the world will tee it up at St. George’s this week, including world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, No. 4 Cam Smith, No. 6 Justin Thomas, and No. 9 Sam Burns.

Scheffler said that aside from Johnson, who had been the face of Team RBC until he joined the LIV event, he hadn’t really noticed anyone missing.

“The best players in the world are out here playing golf and I’m looking forward to competing against them this week,” said Scheffler. “I don’t really know what’s going on over there, so I don’t really have much to say.”

Conners highest-ranked Canadian

Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., the highest-ranked Canadian in the world at No. 31, will be joined by 19 of his fellow countrymen in the field. No Canadian has won the national championship since Pat Fletcher accomplished the feat in 1954 at Point Grey Golf and Country Club in Vancouver.

Conners said he believes Fletcher will soon be replaced as the most recent Canadian to win the national title.

“I feel like now more than ever there’s a great crop of Canadian players and there’s 20 Canadians playing this week and more and more Canadians getting out on the PGA Tour,” said Conners. “It’s exciting to be a part of that group and I think it’s just a matter of time before someone changes the history on that.”

If Conners or another Canadian wins the tournament on Sunday, McIlroy will be the first to congratulate them.

“Sixty-eight years. Corey Conners gets told every five minutes,” said McIlroy about the Canadian drought with a laugh. “I feel it, I get it. There’s more tension, there’s more angst, you almost try too hard.

“It’s almost about letting go, going out and having fun playing.”

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