Sunday, February 20th, 2011
Talk about rising to the occasion.
A cake and candles would have been impossible in the gusting wind, but they still celebrated Canada’s birthday in grand style Thursday, plastering the top of the ATB Financial Classic leaderboard with Leafs.
Canadians scored a hat-trick, eh, grabbing the top three spots, and four of the top five, after Round 1 at the Edmonton Country Club.
“It’s different than it used to be,” said Ottawa’s Scott Hawley, whose 5-under par 66 has him one shot behind Oshawa’s Derek Gillespie. “There are a lot of really good Canadians out here now. It’s no longer like ‘Oh Wow! There’s a Canadian up there!’
“It always seems like there’s a different Canadian playing well. There’s 15-20 guys who can (contend) in Canada at any given time, and that’s just out here, let along the Nationwide and PGA. That’s good. I think the fans like it.”
Gillespie, who won The Golf Channel reality show The Big Break in 2009, caught another one with the first tee time of the morning, before the wind was at its worst.
At the end of the day, 11 hours and 155 players later, his 65 was still good.
“We kind of had it easy. Even though there was a little bit of a breeze, it didn’t start picking up till about our eighth hole,” he said. “Then it got pretty tough out there — 74s or 75s are definitely out there with this wind.”
Gillespie tied for 11th the last time the Canadian Tour visited the Country Club, shooting three-straight 67s and a final round 71.
“I’ve played this course in three tournaments and it kind of suits my game. You need to place it on the fairway.”
Lee Curry of Ottawa and Josh Geary of New Zealand are tied for third with 67s, and in the usual first day logjam, eight players (four of them Canucks) are tied for fifth with 68s.
While the early tee times definitely had it a little easier, the wind didn’t seem to slow down Hawley, who made the most of his 12:40 start.
“You can really use it to your advantage when it’s at your back,” he said, rolling his eyes at a 365-yard drive on No. 7 and a 320-yard 3-wood on No. 12.
“It was really blowing out there. But with there’s so many good players and there’s so much golf left that it really helps to get a good round in there.”
Gillespie is just glad to be playing anywhere after having to cool his heels for five weeks during a pair of massive breaks in the Canadian Tour schedule. They played April 19 in Mexico, then not again until May 31 in Victoria, then had a month off until the Tour rolled into Edmonton.
“I’ve been hitting it really well the last couple of months, there’s just been nothing to play in with this tour,” he said, “You just can’t really get anything going. I was just kind of lying around the house thinking what am I going to do. I needed to make some money.
“It was getting irritating, especially when you feel you’re on top of everything and you have nowhere to go. I felt like I was striping it and playing really well, but I was playing at my home club for $5 with my buddies. I’m looking forward to these next three weeks where you can play and make some dough, get a rhythm going.”