It’s been nearly 20 years since the top two golfers in the world have been in the field for the RBC Canadian Open. But that’s over, as World No. 1 and defending champion Jason Day, and U.S. Open winner Dustin Johnson do battle in Canada’s only PGA Tour event starting Thursday.
“I feel very motivated right now with how DJ is playing,” said Day, who defends his title in four upcoming tournaments, including the PGA Championship. “He’s playing tremendous golf currently and he’s on my heels. He could play well here in the next few weeks and take over my spot, so I don’t want that to happen.”
The last time Canada saw the top two golfers in the world at the country’s only PGA Tour event was in 1997 when Tiger Woods took the top spot from Greg Norman. Both were in the field that year at Royal Montreal.
Johnson has had his shots at the RBC Canadian Open in the past. In 2013 he briefly held the lead on the 17th hole before an untimely lost ball cost him the tournament. He ultimately finished in a tie for second. On the other side of the coin, he missed the cut at the Canadian Open in Montreal in 2014, and it later came out that he was suspended for a positive drug test. Since that point his life appears to have settled down. He had a child with Paulina Gretzky, daughter of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, and said family has altered his life. Paulina and the couple’s son, Tatum, are expected in Canada on the weekend.
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“It’s been great,” Johnson said discussing fatherhood. “That’s definitely been probably the biggest thing and it definitely changes your outlook on things. Where before golf was probably my most important thing and you know now golf is kind of secondary and family is first. I think that’s just been the biggest change.”
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Both Day and Johnson decided to pass on the Olympics, citing the Zika virus and a difficult playing schedule. Johnson said playing the Olympics was still important to him and that he’s interested in going to Tokyo in 2020.
“I feel like it’s a big deal,” he said. “I feel like it’s something I definitely want to be a part of. Just with some of the risk, it wasn’t worth it for me this year.”
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Johnson, who has been exceedingly close to winning several previous majors, finally broke through at the U.S. Open in June at Oakmont with a stunning display of power and prowess. Day, for one, wasn’t surprised.
“I think it was going to happen and I think he knew it was going to happen,” said Day. “He’s a talented guy. He’s won every single year he’s been out here. He’s just a super talented guy and it was going to happen.”
But that doesn’t mean the No. 1 player in the world isn’t going to step up. With three wins and eight Top 10 finishes, along with $6.4-million in earnings, Day has the lead among the best young golfers in the world. Despite a difficult schedule, Day said the surging Johnson provided him with another reason to step up his game.