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Canada's Taylor hopes to repeat at RBC Canadian Open but McIlroy could challenge

Defending champion and Canadian Nick Taylor hits his tee shot on the ninth hole during the Canadian Open Pro-Am in Hamilton, Ont. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press) Defending champion and Canadian Nick Taylor hits his tee shot on the ninth hole during the Canadian Open Pro-Am in Hamilton, Ont. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
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Nick Taylor is everywhere at the RBC Canadian Open. 

Literally, as the defending champion could be seen whizzing around Hamilton Golf and Country Country on a cart Wednesday, taking phone calls as he travelled around the course for media and sponsor appearances. 

But also figuratively, as his silhouette has been incorporated into the Canadian Open's logo as the letter "I" and photos of him hugging David Markle after winning the 2023 men's national golf championship is being used all over the grounds.

"To be on-site, seeing it on flags and posters and stuff, it's one of those things I don't know if I'll ever fully grasp probably the magnitude of that," said Taylor, the first Canadian to win the title in seven decades.

"It's so neat to have the idea (of the logo), but to come to fruition is very cool. It's been really fun to see that, to see the big mural of Dave and I and our celebration, a lot of the stuff is kind of 'pinch me' stuff."

Taylor, from Abbotsford, B.C., won a historic four-hole playoff against England's Tommy Fleetwood last year at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto. That victory ended a 69-year drought for Canadians at their own national championship.

Nick Taylor, right, of Canada reacts with his caddie after winning the Canadian Open championship during a sudden death playoff in Toronto on Sunday, June 11, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

As long a wait as it was for a Canadian to win the national title — Pat Fletcher was the last to do it in 1954 — it has been even longer since Canadians won it in consecutive years. Albert Murray (1913) and Karl Keffer (1914) were the last homegrown back-to-back champs.

Taylor's title defence will begin Thursday morning when he tees off in a group with Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont. McIlroy won consecutive Canadian Opens in 2019 and 2022 — the event was cancelled for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and Pendrith won the CJ Cup Byron Nelson on May 4, making the trio a premium group at the tournament.

"I feel like the whole year's been a build up for this, potentially," said Taylor, who also won the WM Phoenix Open on Feb. 11. "There's going to be a lot of energy out there which will be great, looking forward to that."

McIlroy made his first Canadian Open appearance in 2019 and won the event that year at Hamilton Golf and Country Club. The course has undergone significant changes in the past five years, however, with US$8.5 million being put into reconstructing tees, bunkers and greens on all 27 holes.

The No. 4 golfer in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings had fond memories of his 2019 triumph.

"The place was buzzing. The Raptors were about to win an NBA championship," McIlroy, who won again at Toronto's St. George's Golf and Country Club, said Wednesday. "I was blown away by just the enthusiasm that the fans have, and it was such a great atmosphere to play in."

Rory McIlroy tees off on the 10th on day three of the Genesis Scottish Open 2023 at The Renaissance Club, North Berwick, Britain, Saturday, July 15, 2023. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)

A modern-era record of 28 Canadians will be in the 156-player field at the only PGA Tour event north of the border. Taylor is the highest ranked on both the PGA Tour and world rankings, but Pendrith is just one spot below him in the FedEx Cup rankings.

"I think it's a big deal for all the Canadians playing in this tournament. It's a major for us," he said. "It's the one time we get to be here in our home country and play in front of the home fans, so it's a big deal for the players and the spectators and the whole country. 

"It's a huge event, and to see Nick do it last year was unbelievable, it was super inspiring."

Mackenzie Hughes of nearby Dundas, Ont., is No. 46 in the FedEx Cup standings. He acknowledged that Taylor's win last year eased the pressure on Canadian players to win the national championship, but didn't eliminate it.

"I show up here with my own personal expectations and desires to do well, so I don't think that like I'm going to be out there thinking about because Nick won there's no pressure on me anymore," he said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well every single week.

"So while we're not answering the question of who will be the first to break the Pat Fletcher curse or be the next Canadian to win since Pat Fletcher, I still think that when we come here we're all pretty eager to do well close to home."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2024.

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