VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Mike Weir has enjoyed a lot of breakthroughs playing golf in Vancouver, including his first professional win while playing on the Canadian Tour in 1997, and his first PGA Tour victory two years later.
Weir has also long been the favorite to end a Canadian drought at his national open that dates back to Pat Fletcher winning down the road from here in 1954. In 2004 he almost did, losing in a playoff to Vijay Singh just one year after becoming the first Canadian to win a major at the 2003 Masters.
Now, the little lefty returns to Vancouver just trying to break par.
Coming off elbow surgery late last season and an operation to drain fluid from his wrist in March, Weir has yet to finish under par in 14 events in 2011, making the cut in just two while losing his status on the PGA Tour and tumbling down to No. 475 in the world rankings.
"I was injured and developed some bad habits," Weir said on the eve of the $5.2-million Canadian Open. "I'm fighting my way out of that. I'm trying to work my way back into form and gain some momentum, just string some solid shots together and hopefully it'll lead to some good rounds."
If nothing else, after more rounds in the 80s (three) than 60s (one) this season, Weir comes into his home championship with a different set of expectations, at least externally.
"As poorly as I've played I still like to think that I have a glimmer of hope if I can find the fairway a few more times than I have been," Weir said.
He'll have to this week, with the long, thick rough guarding tree-lined fairways at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club already earning widespread comparisons to a U.S. Open.
"Probably the thickest we played all year," said Luke Donald, still the world's top ranked golfer despite missing the cut at last week's British Open. "I'd say it's even thicker than the U.S. Open."
The rough was just as thick — but not as consistent — when Shaugnessy first hosted the Canadian Open in 2005. Marc Calcavecchia won then with a score of 5-under on the 7,010-yard, par-70 layout above the banks of the Pacific Ocean.
Despite some scores as high as the rough, players raved about the course. It's a big reason the Canadian Open has its best field since 2004 — three years before it was moved from September to a mid-summer date after the British Open.
"I've heard a lot of good things from other PGA players," said Rickie Fowler, coming off a tie for fifth at the British Open with fellow Americans Anthony Kim and Chad Campbell, who are both in this week's field. "Ben Crane was the first one to tell me about it. He said it's probably one of his favorite places, definitely his favorite place to play in Canada. So I was excited to come."
Having the tournament's title sponsor, RBC, on the bag of top players didn't hurt, helping ensure Donald and Kim made the long trip from England. So too did RBC-backed players like No.8-ranked Matt Kuchar, No. 22 Jim Furyk, and No. 25 Ernie Els. Fellow South African Charl Schwartzel, the world's 12th-ranked player and current Masters champion, is also here, as are No. 15 Paul Casey and No. 18 Hunter Mahan. To make things easier, the tournament chartered a flight from the British Open.
"The charter definitely helps out with getting guys here," Fowler said of his first trip to Canada's west coast. "This is about as far as you're going to get traveling-wise from England all the way to Vancouver but it really wasn't too bad.
Even after traveling eight time zones, most players didn't seem to mind the difficult set up.
"I wish we played more golf course like this on Tour," said Carl Pettersson, who is the defending champion after winning at St. George s Golf and Country Club in Toronto last year — including a tournament record 60 on the Saturday. "It's set up like a U.S. Open, major-style golf course, very demanding off the tee, the rough is up, the greens are small. It's a great golf course."
It's just not a great place to try and find your game, like Weir.
Or one where you can expect to see any repeats of Pettersson s 60 from last year.
"Yeah," he said when asked if 60 was out there. "Maybe after 14 holes."