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Canada's Taylor makes history with RBC Canadian Open victory in playoff

Nick Taylor Nick Taylor - The Canadian Press
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TORONTO — As Nick Taylor's 72-foot eagle putt dropped to win the RBC Canadian Open a who's who of Canadian golf charged the green with bottles of champagne to spray him.

Mike Weir, Corey Conners, Adam Hadwin, and Golf Canada officials ran toward Taylor to celebrate as thousands of fans surrounding the hole came unglued in the pouring rain.

After a 69-year drought a Canadian had finally won the men's national golf championship.

"To break that curse, if you want to call it that is … I'm pretty speechless," said an emotional Taylor. "I don't think it's going to sink in for quite some time what happened today."

The lengthy putt ended a dramatic four-hole playoff with England's Tommy Fleetwood. They had been tied at 17-under after 72 holes to top the tightly packed leaderboard at Oakdale Golf and Country Club. Both players birdied the first playoff hole and then picked up consecutive pars before Taylor's stunning clincher on No. 18.

The last Canadian to win the event was Pat Fletcher in 1954 at Vancouver's Point Grey Golf and Country Club. Most of Canada's professional golfers refer to the Canadian Open as their fifth major and have been aching to end the drought for years.

When Taylor was asked what the win meant to him and Canadian golf as a whole a fan in a nearby grandstand shouted an answer for him.

"I heard someone shout out there, 'everything,' and I don't know any other word to use other than that," said Taylor. "I think it's a tournament that we've circled on our calendar since probably junior golf.

"Ever since I've been on the PGA Tour this is one that we want to do as well as we can in, and the crowd support was the most unbelievable thing I will probably ever experience in my life."

Fleetwood has yet to win on the PGA Tour but was gracious in defeat.

"Nice moment for Nick and the fans here," said Fleetwood, who birdied Nos. 17 and 18 to force the playoff as Taylor watched on TV in the clubhouse. "It's great to be a part of that Sunday and that playoff.

"I had my chances, really. It wasn't to be this time. Congratulations to him."

The wild celebrations included Hadwin, who's also from Abbotsford, getting tackled by a security guard as he rushed onto the green to congratulate Taylor. Hadwin insisted he was too filled with adrenalin to even feel the blow.

"It's incredible. I mean, what do you say to one of the greatest moments of Canadian golf history?" said Hadwin. "I think we all predicted that this was going to happen.

"I'm not sure that any one of us predicted a 72-foot eagle putt in a fourth hole playoff to get it done, but what a way to go."

There have been other close calls, including a dramatic three-hole playoff in 2004 when Fiji's Vijay Singh beat Weir at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont., in 2004.

"My heart is pumping for him still," said Weir on the 18th green as Taylor's celebration continued nearby. "That's just an amazing finish."

This year's edition of the Canadian Open was the one to end the drought.

With next week's U.S. Open on the west coast at the Los Angeles Country Club, most of the top-ranked players stayed away from Toronto to rest ahead of the third major of the men's golf season.

No. 12 Sam Burns was the highest ranked player on the FedEx Cup standings at Oakdale and he missed the cut on Friday. No. 13 Rory McIlroy saw the weekend, as did No. 16 Tyrrell Hatton.

The fact that eight Canadians made the cut — the most since 2002 — was also promising.

When the third round began on Saturday morning, Taylor was a long shot to win. He had struggled to a 3-over 75 in the first round and then squeaked into the weekend with a 67 to sit at 2-under.

But he rocketed up the leaderboard on Saturday with 9-under 63 to set a new course record at Oakdale and head into the fourth round in a tie with England's Aaron Rai for eighth at 11-under.

Taylor's gallery grew with each hole on Sunday as word spread that he had taken the lead. Fans serenaded him with "O Canada," called out "Let's go Canada!" and chanted his name — sometimes in a cruder, rhyming version.

"It was the most incredible atmosphere I've ever been a part of and it's not even close," said Taylor, who finished second at the notoriously boisterous WM Phoenix Open on Feb. 12. "I think even walking the first tee today, walking to the first green, there's ovations on every single tee and green.

"When Tommy would miss and they would cheer I kind of felt bad for him. But I knew just how pumped they were and they were trying to put every ounce of energy into it to help me pull it through."

Third-round leader C.T. Pan, Hatton and Rai tied for third.

Controversy threatened to overshadow the Canadian Open earlier in the week. The PGA Tour announced Tuesday that it had struck a deal with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund and the European-based DP World Tour to create an as-yet unnamed global men's golf organization.

The new accord ended an acrimonious year between the PGA Tour and PIF, which owns the upstart LIV Golf, that saw the two sides battling in the headlines and in court.

Founded in 2021, LIV Golf was meant to challenge men's golf's traditional power structure, offering huge guaranteed contracts to some of the biggest names in the sport. Events were team-based and supposed to have a more lively atmosphere than the staid PGA Tour.

Last June, several former world No. 1s or major champions announced that they were moving from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf. Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcis, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Lee Westwood were some of those marquee golfers to jump ship, playing in the first-ever LIV event running in direct opposition to the 2022 Canadian Open.

McIlroy was sharply critical of LIV Golf ahead of last year's Canadian Open, and again found himself in the spotlight after the news that the PGA Tour would now be working with PIF.

"I feel bad for RBC and the Canadian Open," said McIlroy on Wednesday. "To think about what went on this time last year and then the bombshell that was dropped.

"I feel bad because (RBC) being such a great partner and having this stuff dropped on you two years in a row is very unfair."

But Taylor's triumph cleared those clouds of controversy and set a new target for all Canadian golfers on the PGA Tour: another major championship, to match Weir's Masters victory in 2003.

"That's the next step," said Taylor. "Hopefully, I'll be in a lot more of them. I haven't been in enough as I would like over my whole career.

"I think next week (at the U.S. Open) there's seven of us there, so hopefully we can do the same thing."