‘Incredibly sad’: Rory McIlroy reflects on death of Grayson Murray

Shane Lowry, Séamus Power and McIlroy all in the field for the Canadian Open

Back to reality, in more ways than one, for Rory McIlroy who will seek a third career RBC Canadian Open title at the revamped Hamilton Country Club in Ontario but, also, very much with an awareness that the enthusiasm of the galleries would be tempered by the recent passing of Grayson Murray.

“It’s a cliche, but it puts everything in perspective,” remarked McIlroy of Murray’s death last weekend after his withdrawal from the Charles Schwab Challenge. “At the end of the day, golf is golf, and we play it for a living, but it pales in comparison to the things that actually matter in life. I’ve had to realise that at times and I’m still working my way through that in terms of not making golf the be-all end-all for me. I think he slaps you in the face when something like that happens last week.

“It’s incredibly sad and everyone has to remember out here that we go out and we do things that a lot of people can’t, but at the end of the day we’re still human beings, and we’re vulnerable and we’re fragile, and I think if there’s a lesson for anyone out there it’s just to be kinder to each other.”

McIlroy is returning to tournament play for the first time since a tied-12th finish in the US PGA Championship – which was preceded by back-to-back wins in the Zurich Classic (in partnership with Shane Lowry) and the Wells Fargo – and his off-time involved flying to Italy for a friend’s wedding and spending time with his daughter Poppy and his family. He estimated only hitting about 150 balls all of last week.

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A two-time winner of the Canadian Open, in 2019 at Hamilton and again in 2022 at St George’s, world number three McIlroy is back to a venue which has seen considerable reconstruction work carried out by Martin Ebert on the old Harry Colt design since his win five years ago. In that final round, McIlroy shot a 61 (bogeying the last) when his eyes were on a possible 59.

“I got off to a really good start and kept it going until the point where 59 sort of entered the equation in the middle of the back nine. When I eagled 17, knowing that I needed to birdie the last to shoot 59 and blew a 5-iron right into the bunker and ended up making bogey, I had to remind myself when I tapped in to look happy, because I had just won a tournament,” recalled McIlroy.

He added: “With the way the golf course is now, I don’t think anyone’s shooting 59 out there this week. It’s a bit of a tougher test than it was [then] ... I think some greens are a lot slopier. A lot of green complexes have more run-offs. Even though the greens are quite big, they play maybe a little bit smaller than they actually are. I think the penalties for missing are just a little more penal.

“You’ve got that longer rough around the bunkers, the rough is very, very thick this week. You miss the green slightly and those really fast run-offs, the ball can run 20, 30 yards off the green, obviously it will be a tough to get it down from some of those places. I think there’s a little bit more precision needed with this redesign.”

McIlroy is headed into a busy stretch of tournaments will includes next week’s Memorial (one of the PGA Tour signature events), the following week’s US Open at Pinehurst and, then, will complete the four-tournament run at another $20 million signature event, The Travelers.

Shane Lowry, a past runner-up (to McIlroy in 2019), and Séamus Power are also in the field in Ontario and on a similar stretch of events to that of the Northern Irishman.

Nelly Korda, meanwhile, heads into the US Women’s Open in the form of her life having won six of her seven events on the LPGA Tour so fat this year, including The Chevron (the first of five women’s Majors on the schedule).

As expected of courses set up by the USGA, the examination at Lancaster Country Club in Pennsylvania is anticipated to be a tough one. As Korda put it, “It’s going to test every aspect of just your golf game and even your mental game because it’s a Major championship. You can get ahead of yourself, get lost in the moment. If you make a couple mistakes here and there sometimes it can get away from you, but it’s going to test every aspect of your game out there this week.”

Korda (25) is seeking a third career Major title, having recently added The Chevron to her 2021 US Women’s PGA.

Leona Maguire, who missed the cut at The Chevron last month, is looking to bounce back in this championship; the world number 27 is one of three Irish players in the field, along with Stephanie Meadow – who was tied-30th in Chevron – and amateur Áine Donegan.

Lowdowns
RBC Canadian Open

Purse: €8.7 million (€1.6m to the winner)

Where: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

The course: Hamilton Country Club – 7,084 yards par 70 – last hosted the tournament in 2019, when it was won by Rory McIlroy, but a significant revamp has taken place since then with Martin Ebert – the go-to man these days for the R&A for Open venues – overseeing the project which saw the course revert to many of original designer Harry Colt’s philosophies. Only 112 yards in extra length was added but there was a complete overhaul of bunkering and greens.

The field: There has been a conspicuous drip-drip of players over the past week – including the withdrawal of Charles Schwab winner Davis Riley – but world number three Rory McIlroy remains very much as the headline act and the only player from the world’s top 10 competing. Sahith Theegala, world number 12, and Tommy Fleetwood, world number 13, are also playing along with, as you’d expect, a large contingent of Canadians (25 of them), including defending champion Nick Taylor. There is an added incentive for players, with the leading three not already exempt getting invites to the 152nd Open at Royal Troon.

Quote-Unquote: “I still believe from everything that I’ve experienced since I’ve been playing that Rory [McIlroy] is the best of our generation. I still believe that. However, players do arrive, and it’s hard to say anything to back against Scottie Scheffler. Now, if you were a betting man, I think it’s very hard to bet against Scottie Scheffler, the way he’s playing. Who knows. It will be a great debate” – Tommy Fleetwood contributing his views to the great debate of who is the better player, Rory or Scottie?

Irish in the field: Three of them: Séamus Power – who hasn’t played since a tied-16th finish in the Wells Fargo – returns to action and is featured in a group with KH Lee and Keith Mitchell (off the 1st tee at 12.40pm Irish time); Rory McIlroy is in a marquee group which also includes defending champion Nick Taylor and recent CJ Cup Byron Nelson winner Taylor Pendrith (off the 10th at 12.40pm Irish time); and Shane Lowry, seeking to continue his rich vein of form, is also grouped with two Canadians, Mackenzie Hughes and Adam Hadwin (off the 1st at 5.55pm Irish time).

Betting: No surprise to find Rory McIlroy – the winner in 2019 before the course revamp – installed as a hot favourite priced at 10-3 with Tommy Fleetwood, beaten in a playoff by Nick Taylor last year, rated a 14-1 shot and Sahith Theegala rated 18-1. Shane Lowry was runner-up to McIlroy five years ago and – given the Colt-Ebert connection with Royal Portrush – should give a good run for money at odds of 20-1. Mackenzie Hughes is worth a look at 33s each-way.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf (from 5pm and 8pm).

US Women’s Open

Purse: €11 million (€1.9m to the winner)

Where: Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA

The course: Lancaster Country Club – 6,583 yards par 70 – was designed by the noted American course architect William Flynn. The course last played host to the US Open in 2015, when it was won by In Gee Chun, who was made an honorary member of the club and who has since returned annually to host a charity day. In wonderful conditioning, the course challenges players off and the tee and on approach to heavily bunkered greens: there is a stunning stretch for home, highlighted by the signature 18th, played off an elevated tee.

The field: In what is the second Major of the women’s season, there is a stellar field headed by the dominant world number one Nelly Korda (winner of six of her last tournaments on the LPGA Tour). Nine of the top-10 are playing, along with eight past champions. Allisen Corpuz is the defending champion.

Quote-Unquote: “Getting to play [the US Open] as a 14-year-old back in the day was where I realised this was what I wanted to do for a living. To get to come out here every year and compete at the best golf courses for the highest prize money and against the best players in the world, there’s nothing better than that” – Nelly Korda.

Irish in the field: Three of them: Áine Donegan – the amateur from Lahinch Golf Club – came through pre-qualifying for a second straight year and is in a group with So Mi Lee and Yealimi Noh (off the 1st tee at 12.29pm Irish time); Leona Maguire is in a group with Madelene Sagstrom and Patty Tavatanakit (off the 1st at 1.13pm Irish time); and Stephanie Meadow is grouped with Esther Henseleit and Mi Hyang Lee (off the 1st at 7.31pm Irish time).

Betting: Nelly Korda’s dominance on tour has the world number one installed as a tightly priced 10-3 favourite with her US Solheim Cup team-mate Rose Zhang rated next best in the market at 18-1. In-form Hannah Green is worth an each-way look at 25-1 while Leona Maguire looks well-priced at 50s.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Main Event (from 5pm and 10.30pm).

European Open

Purse: €2.3 million (€395,000 to the winner)

Where: Hamburg, Germany

The course: Green Eagle Golf Club – 7,455 yards par 73 – is one of the longest courses on the DP World Tour schedule and the Porsche Nord layout has the moniker of the “Green Monster” to go with it. There are no fewer than six Par 5s on the layout (which harbours hopes of one day playing host to the Ryder Cup), with two – the 9th at 647 yards and the 16th at 663 yards – measuring over 600 yards.

The field: Nacho Elvira, winner of last week’s Soudal Open in Belgium, is one of eight players who have won on the DP World Tour this season included in a field which includes defending champion Tom McKibbin.

Quote-Unquote: “It has been 27 amazing years [of playing on the DP World Tour]. I love this tour and I’m very proud of being able to stay out here for that long” – Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen of joining an elite club of players in playing 700 tournaments on the European Tour. Kjeldsen, David Howell, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sam Torrance are the elite quartet.

Irish in the field: In what has become a regular theme on the European circuit this season, emphasising the lack of depth in Irish involvement, Tom McKibbin is the lone Irish player in the field. He is, of course, the defending champion. McKibbin – who has qualified for the upcoming US Open at Pinehurst – is in a group with Rasmus Hojgaard and Yannick Paul (off the 1st tee at 10.50am Irish time).

Betting: The wide open nature of the market is reflected in the fact that Tom McKibbin, who heads the betting, is a 16-1 shot with Jordan Smith and Rasmus Hojgaard each at 20s. Guido Migliozzi is worth at each-way look at 40-1.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf (from 12pm).

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