Players size up Glen Abbey ahead of Canadian Open

Glen Abbey Golf Club has been witness to the drama of 26 RBC Canadian Opens since it opened in 1976, and the top players in the field at the tournament this week don’t expect that to change.

The site of victories by Tiger Woods, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman and others greats, it is easy to dismiss Glen Abbey, partially because Canadians are so familiar with the course and possibility because lesser-known players like Nathan Green and Chez Reavie won the most recent tournaments held at the Oakville, Ont., property.

One thing is certain – the course is gathering universal praise from the players this week, especially those who played the British Open at Muirfield where rock-hard conditions meant balls rolled like marbles on concrete.

Luke Donald, the Englishman and former World No. 1, last played at Glen Abbey four years ago. He spoke highly of the course after playing in the Pro-Am on Wednesday.

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“It is in great shape,” said Donald. “The greens are holding right now, the fairways are firm and the rough is pretty juicy in spots. It’s going to be a big premium hitting it in the fairways this week, and taking advantage of the par fives.”

For Irish star Graeme McDowell, who hadn’t played in the RBC Canadian Open in more than a decade, he couldn’t even recall whether he’d ever been to Glen Abbey. It turns out he hadn’t played the course – he used Google to determine that he played another “glen,” this one Angus Glen, the Markham, Ont., course that held the tournament in 2002.

“I guess it was probably my third start as a PGA Tour rookie in 2002,” he explained. “I thought it was Glen Abbey and I had to Google it and have a look and found out it was actually Angus Glen.”

McDowell called the rough “gnarly,” saying the winner would have to keep “the ball in play and control your ball on a tricky golf course.”

For Ernie Els, who was fond of the massive drives that could be struck at a firm Muirfield during the British Open, but less happy about his inability to stop the ball before it rolled into knee-high fescue grass, returning to a parkland course is a respite.

“I was very happy to be back on green grass where the ball actually stops,” Els joked. “I like the distance that the ball went, and some of those 400-yard drives that I hit, I miss that. But it’s nice to be playing more original golf.”

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One thing is clear – if rain stays away and the course remains firm, Glen Abbey won’t be a push over, despite having two reachable par fives in the final three holes.

Certainly Donald doesn’t expect scores like Woods shot in 2000 when he battled Grant Waite and finished the tournament at 22-under par. That type of score often is worrisome for more exacting ball strikers like Donald, who have a better chance on tougher courses where the scores are higher.

“I think if I play as well as I can, I can win anywhere,” Donald said.

For Hunter Mahan, ranked 22 in the World Golf Rankings, he expects the Abbey to hold its own.

“I don’t expect the scores to be low, especially with the wind blowing the way it is and the fact it is a little cooler,” Mahan said. “We’ll find the course playing a little longer and a little more challenging.”

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