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Canadians at U.S. Open fighting for Olympic spots

Nick Taylor Nick Taylor - The Canadian Press

The best players in the world have gathered for the year’s third major at Pinehurst No. 2, the historic North Carolina layout that is expected to play brutally tough this week.

While that in itself is a reason to try and find your A-game, for six Canadians in the field there is another: to decide which two men will compete for Canada at the Olympics in Paris.

At the end of the American championship, the top two Canadians on the Official World Golf Ranking will be named to the team. With so many world ranking points up for grabs at a major, all six are still mathematically alive.

At present, Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin hold the top two positions, but Corey Conners, Mackenzie Hughes, Taylor Pendrith and Adam Svensson are chasing.

“I've been in a good spot for a while now,” said Taylor, who has been on top since his win at the WM Phoenix Open in February, “but I think I'm excited for it to be over and hopefully, I’m one of the two.”

Since his victory in Phoenix, Taylor has had just a single top-10 finish, that coming at the Zurich Classic, a team event where he and Hadwin teamed up. According to some inside his camp, making the Olympics has been weighing on him over the last few weeks, to the point where it might have been affecting his play.

That amped up after last week when Hadwin finished third at the Memorial and moved to 35th spot from 59th, passing Conners and sitting just three spots behind Taylor. It shows just how fluid the positions are when lots of world ranking points are available, such as this week. This week is no different.

“If I hadn't had a week like last week, I think it'd be harder,” said Hadwin of trying to keep thoughts of being on Team Canada out of his head.  “I did such a good job of focusing on trying to win a golf tournament that at no point during the final round was it, ‘Oh if I do this I'll leapfrog Corey’ or any of that. It was a sole focus of trying to get the ball in the hole in the least amount of shots as possible. So, I'm going to go out there and do that again here.”

Hadwin has had a solid season, with five top-10 finishes. He’s put in a lot of work all year to try and bolster the weaker parts of his game and it’s paid off most weeks. He sits 24th in the FedEx Cup standings, the best of the Canadian contingent, and his spot on the Official World Golf Ranking is a career-best 35th.

Conners is tops of the chasers, 11 positions behind Hadwin on the world ranking. He’s had a consistent but not necessarily great season so far. He’s made the cut in all 16 events in which he’s played, but his sixth-place finish at the RBC Canadian open two weeks ago was hit best of the season.

The Listowel, Ont., native would need a good finish, coupled with a slip from Hadwin, if he hopes to move into the top two positions. If he does make it, he would be the first Canadian male to play in more than one Olympics, having competed in the 2020 Games in Japan. Those were contested under severe restrictions due to COVID.

“It'd be it'd be really special again,” he admitted. “I fortunately got to experience it in Tokyo, but getting back there would definitely be good.”

The rest of the Canadians will need a Hail Mary to slip into the top two positions. It’s a long shot, for sure, but far from an impossibility.

“It would be an honour to make that team,” said Pendrith, who earned his first PGA Tour victory in May, pushing him into contention. “I’m kind of running out of time, so I'm going to need a really good week this week. If I do and get on it, that'd be unreal. It's tough team to make. The boys are playing really good golf.”

Pendrith is in 65th spot on the world ranking, one place ahead of Hughes. Svensson is in 89th and would likely need to win, something that’s not out of his reach.

Every one of the six would love to play for Canada and if they don’t do it at the Olympics, they may get the opportunity in September at the Presidents Cup, where Mike Weir will captain the team when the competition is played in Montreal.

For now, however, the focus is on the Olympic Games and Paris.

“I take great pride in representing Canada on the international stage whenever I get the chance,” said Hadwin, “and with the Olympics sort of being the pinnacle of sports, it would be extra special.”