COURTENAY, British Columbia—Max Sear’s opening round of PGA TOUR Canada’s final Qualifying Tournament, at Crowne Isle Resort and Golf on Tuesday was going along quite well. He birdied the 14th hole to get to 4-under, but he hadn’t done anything spectacular. He decided to make something happen. Sear poured in a 25-foot eagle putt on that hole, and that 3-under stretch moved him to 6-under overall. That’s where the Markham, Ontario, native who lives in Victoria, finished, and that was good for a one-stroke lead over Canada’s Riley Wheeldon. A quartet of players—Canadians Jimmy Jones, Brendan MacDougall and Jared du Toit and Australian Will Barnett—are two strokes back with 54 holes still to play. 

As he walked to the 15th tee, Sear noticed something. Officials had moved the tees quite a bit forward to where he played his practice rounds. Hmmmm. 

“They had the tee up, and I thought they probably won’t be up every day, so I might as well hit driver and see if I could get something going,” the former University of West Virginia golfer said. After sending his drive down the fairway, he had a 220-yard second shot on the par-5, and he pulled a 4-iron. “I hit it to 25 feet and made the putt,” he said. 

A year ago, playing in the series of tournaments designed for players in Canada, Sear was a hard-luck runner-up finisher to Michael Blair at the Prince Edward Island Open. The duo finished regulation tied, with Blair winning with a birdie on the first extra hole. He’s already put himself in position for a win with his stellar first-round play. 

In his career, Sear has only played in three events that offer Official World Golf Ranking Points: two 2019 PGA TOUR Canada events and the 2022 Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA TOUR, an event Sear played via Monday qualifying. He missed the cut in all three. 

Wheeldon made a last-minute decision to enter this week’s tournament. Wheeldon learned the game at Crowne Isle, and his local knowledge showed in the opening round as he birdied the first two holes, parred No. 3 then almost made a hole-in-one on No 4. He finished the stretch by adding another birdie, on No. 5. That blistering beginning left Wheeldon near the top of the leaderboard, which came as something of a surprise to him. 

“I’m obviously happy with my round. I came into today without a whole lot of expectations despite knowing this place pretty well. I haven’t been playing a whole lot,” Wheeldon explained. “I got off to a dream start, that shook off the nerves a little bit and gave me some breathing room.”