Champions Tour European Tour Korn Ferry Tour LPGA Tour PGA TOUR Symetra Tour

Golf Canada Leaderboard presented by Titleist

Golf Canada Leaderboard presented by Titleist

Below is a list of how Canadian golfers fared across the major professional tours the week prior.

PGA TOUR

Hideki Matsuyama almost squandered a six shot lead with bogeys on three of his final four holes before holding on to win the Masters by a single stroke, becoming the first Japanese winner of the green jacket. He becomes the second man from an Asian country to win a major after Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship. Will Zalatoris finished second – the best performance by a first-timer to the Masters since Jordan Spieth was runner-up in 2014 to Bubba Watson. Xander Schauffele put on a late charge with fourth straight birdies on the back nine only to see his title hopes end with a triple-bogey on the par-3 16th. …Corey Conners made the weekend cut for the third straight time as a pro (he missed in his first appearance as an amateur). He had the 6th hole in one at the 6th hole in Masters history – the first one in 9 years. It was also the first hole in one by a Canadian since Sandy Somerville at the very first Masters tournament in 1934. By finishing in the top-12, Conners earned an invitation back to next year’s tournament. …Mackenzie Hughes, playing in his 2nd Masters, made the weekend cut for the first time. Has yet to shoot under par in six career rounds at Augusta. …Mike Weir was making his 22nd start at Masters. He missed the cut for the sixth time in the last seven appearances.

POS SCORES TOTAL
T8 Corey Conners 73-69-68-74 -4
T40 Mackenzie Hughes 72-72-72-76 +4
MC Mike Weir 78-71 +1

NEXT EVENT: RBC Heritage  (Apr. 15)

CANADIANS ENTERED: Corey Conners, Michael Gligic, Adam Hadwin, Mackenzie Hughes, Nick Taylor

MACKENZIE TOUR-PGA TOUR CANADA

Patrick Cover started the final round in a four-way tie for the lead but a 5-under 65 was enough to give him a three stroke victory at the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying Tournament in Georgia. With the victory, Cover has full membership for the 2021 season. Alexandre Fuchs, who finished runner-up, along with Ben Wolcott and Daniel O’Rourke are all exempt through the first half of the season. Five players who tied for fifth went to a playoff for the final two exempt spots. Luke Schniederjans, with a birdie on the first extra hole, and Austin Morrison – who needed three more playoff holes – secured the final spots. …Golf Canada Young Pro Squad member Joey Savoie was the top Canadian, finishing in a tie for 10th and earning conditional membership.

NEXT EVENT: Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada Q-School-CANADA West 3 (May 24)

CANADIANS ENTERED:  TBA

LPGA TOUR

NEXT EVENT: LOTTE Championship (Apr. 14)

CANADIANS ENTERED: Brooke Henderson, Alena Sharp, Jaclyn Lee, Anne-Catherine Tanguay (reserve)

KORN FERRY TOUR

NEXT EVENT: MGM Resorts Championship (Apr. 15)

CANADIANS ENTERED: Taylor Pendrith, Adam Svensson, Stuart Macdonald (alternate)

SYMETRA TOUR

NEXT EVENT: Casino Del Sol Golf Classic (Apr. 15)

CANADIANS ENTERED: Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Maude-Aimee Leblanc, Brittany Marchand, Samantha Richdale, Maddie Szeryk, Selena Costabile (reserve), Valerie Tanguay (reserve), Caroline Ciot (reserve), Hannah Hellyer (reserve), Sabrina Sapone (reserve)

EUROPEAN TOUR

NEXT EVENT: Austrian Golf Open (Apr. 15)

CANADIANS ENTERED:  Aaron Cockerill

PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS

NEXT EVENT: Chubb Classic (Apr. 16)

CANADIANS ENTERED: Stephen Ames, Mike Weir

European Tour

Cockerill closes out South African Open in a tie for 18th

Aaron Cockerill
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

SUN CITY, South Africa — Christiaan Bezuidenhout won a second straight tournament on the European Tour when he finished with a 69 for 18 under par overall and a convincing five-shot victory at the South African Open on Sunday.

The 26-year-old South African became the first player since Justin Rose in 2017 to win European Tour events on consecutive weeks. Bezuidenhout won the Alfred Dunhill Championship, also in South Africa, last weekend and now has three career tour titles.

Bezuidenhout took a five-shot lead into the final round at Gary Player Country Club at the Sun City resort and maintained that advantage over Jamie Donaldson of Wales, who also closed with a 69. Dylan Frittelli of South Africa (71) was third on 11 under.

Canadian Aaron Cockerill of Stony Mountain, Man., was in the hunt after firing a 68 on Friday, but shot 72 on Saturday and followed that up with Sunday’s 74 to tie for 18th at 3 under.

After starting with a run of pars, Bezuidenhout made bogey at No. 8. But he recovered with three straight birdies after the turn and had four birdies in all on the back nine to consolidate his lead.

“It’s any South African golfer’s dream to win his national open,” Bezuidenhout said. “It’s unreal.”

His story is something of an inspiration after he nearly died as a child because of an accidental poisoning. That incident led him to be prescribed medication to help with anxiety and a stutter but the medication resulted in a doping ban when he was an amateur. The two-year ban in 2014 was later reduced to nine months.

Sunday’s victory took Bezuidenhout up to fifth in the Race to Dubai money list rankings ahead of the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai starting on Thursday. Patrick Reed of the United States leads the season standings ahead of Tommy Fleetwood, Collin Morikawa, Lee Westwood and Bezuidenhout.

European Tour PGA TOUR

PGA Tour gets share of European Tour TV as part of alliance

Jay Monahan
Jay Monahan (Getty Images)

The PGA Tour has acquired a minority stake in the European Tour’s media production company as part of an alliance announced Friday, a big first step toward developing a more unified golf schedule around the world.

The deal effectively makes the two leading tours more partners than rivals. The tours said in a statement the alliance would allow them to collaborate on commercial opportunities and global media rights in certain territories.

“The PGA Tour moves from a competitor to a partner,” Keith Pelley, chief executive for the European Tour, said on a conference call.

While seen as a pivotal first step, any notion of a world tour _ which golf executives have contemplated for more than a decade _ remains some years away. The immediate goal is to figure out a schedule that keeps the tours from competing against each other and strengthening events on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond.

Pelley offered few details on scheduling, access to tours or even negotiating media rights.

As part of the agreement, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan will join the European Tour board as a non-executive member who would have a vote. “They have a monetary investment in our business,” he said of the PGA Tour.

Pelley said the board’s approval of the partnership was unanimous.

The announcement is likely to put an end to the Premier Golf League, which a year ago was courting the world’s best players for a team-based circuit and funded in part by Saudi money. Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka rejected the idea right before the pandemic.

Pelley said The Raine Group, a private equity firm behind the Premier Golf League, presented a “compelling offer to take the European Tour to another level but in a different direction.”

“We felt partnering with the PGA Tour was the best option,” he said.

Pelley said the partnership grew out of golf organizations having to work together at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to rearrange the major championship season for men and women.

“We shared the challenges of working through a year neither of us could have ever imagined and we found definite synergies in many areas of our respective tours,” Pelley said.

The announcement comes toward the end of a devastating year financially for both tours. The PGA Tour has lost more money than the European one because of its size, though it had more in reserve to handle the crisis.

The PGA Tour shut down for three months, and then resumed June 8 and played a tournament every week except for this one, with no reduction in prize money. Two of its Asia tournaments, in South Korean and Japan, moved to the western U.S. with a purse of $9.75 million (CJ Cup at Shadow Creek) and $8 million (Zozo Championship at Sherwood).

The European Tour resumed in July with a series of new tournaments geared toward giving its members events to play while maintaining a strict bubble to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Players would stay in regions such as the Iberian peninsula and the U.K., though the total purse was rarely more than 1 million euros.

The exceptions were the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, the flagship event at its headquarters, the Scottish Open and the DP World Tour Championship next month in Dubai.

The gap between the tours has grown so much in the last decade there have been rumblings of a merger of the tours, or even a takeover, given the PGA Tour’s wealth. Monahan referred only to a partnership, and said “we look forward to working together for the benefit of the men’s professional game and for golf fans around the world.”

Pelley strongly disputed the notion of a merger, suggesting that would happen only if the tour had financial difficulties or there were significant benefits for the players. He said the European Tour had a strong balance sheet, which allowed it to create 15 new events during the pandemic and spend $3 million on a health and safety plan.

“This is not a merger,” he said.

A week before the pandemic, the PGA Tour announced a new media rights deal that starts in 2022 and is said to be worth $7 billion over nine years, which includes digital. The tour also has a 12-year deal with Discovery, which owns Golf TV.

London-based Discovery also is a rights holder for the European Tour, which has various contracts with TV companies, given its schedule that plays in more countries than any tour.

The PGA Tour has become so lucrative that Europe’s best players have taken up membership on both tours. Of the 20 Europeans among the top 75 in the world, only four are not PGA Tour members.

European Tour

Cockerill posts career best finish at Joburg Open

Aaron Cockerill
Luke Walker/Getty Images

JOHANNESBURG – Canadian Aaron Cockerill has posted a career-best finish on the European Tour with a share a fourth place.

Cockerill, from Stone Mountain, Man., ended with a 68 for 13-under at the Joburg Open on Sunday, tied with South African Brandon Stone and Steve Surry of England.

The trio were six strokes back of winner Joachim B. Hansen.

“Personal best T-4 finish on the European Tour this week,” Cockerill said in a post to his Twitter and Instagram accounts. “Getting closer and closer.”

Currently ranked 118th, the 28-year-old is the only Canadian on the tour.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Golf Canada (@thegolfcanada)

Hansen of Denmark overturned a three-shot deficit with nine holes remaining to win his first European Tour title Sunday.

Hansen closed with a composed, bogey-free 67 to win on 19 under par, two shots clear of 20-year-old Wilco Nienaber of South Africa. Nienaber carded a final-round 70 and saw his chance at a first tour title slip away with bogeys on his last two holes.

Nienaber took a one-stroke lead into the final round at Randpark Golf Club and extended his advantage to three with three birdies from No. 4.

Hansen birdied Nos. 10, 12 and 14 to get into a tie for the lead before Nienaber bogeyed No. 17 after almost finding the water to the left of the green.

Nienaber then dropped another shot on the last as Hansen saved par from a greenside bunker to seal his victory.

“It was a fun battle out there with Wilco,” Hansen said. “I kept the head calm out there and we stuck to the plan in terms of where we wanted to hit our drives and approaches. I kept pushing. It started slowly but suddenly the birdies came on the back nine.”

Shaun Norris of South Africa was third on 16 under after finishing with a 66.

The Joburg Open returned to the European Tour schedule this year for the first time since 2017. It’s the first of three straight tournaments in South Africa before the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai from Dec. 10-13.

European Tour

Cockerill tied for 3rd after first round of Joburg Open

Aaron Cockerill
Luke Walker/Getty Images

JOHANNESBURG — South Africans Wilco Nienaber and Shaun Norris both shot an 8-under 63 Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Joburg Open, which made its return to the European Tour schedule for the first time since 2017.

Aaron Cockerill of Stony Mountain, Man., who played his first round bogey-free and made two birdies on his last three. Cockerill ended the day one back of the lead at 7-under 64.

American Johannes Veerman joined Cockerill in a tie for 3rd — both players completed late-afternoon runs at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg.

Rhys Enoch, Adilson da Silva, Richard McEvoy, Benjamin Follett-Smith and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano all carded 65s and were another shot back.

On a morning of low scores, Nienaber and Norris both made eagles at the par-5 No. 12. Nienaber also had nine birdies but was held back by three bogeys. Norris made six birdies to go with his eagle and didn’t drop a shot all round.

The 20-year-old Nienaber turned pro last year and his best finish in a tour event is fourth. His power was on show at Randpark as he unleashed a 439-yard drive off the tee on the par-5 No. 4. He nearly picked up a second eagle there as his putt hit the cup but didn’t drop.

Norris is also seeking a first European Tour title, although he’s won twice on the Asian Tour. He put together a strong finish by making five birdies on his last seven holes.

The Joburg Open is the first of three straight European Tour tournaments in South Africa before the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai on Dec. 10-13.

European Tour

Cockerill finishes Cyprus Open at T14

Aaron Cockerill
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

PAPHOS, Cyprus — Callum Shinkwin beat Kalle Samooja in a playoff to win his first European Tour title after a dramatic final day at the Cyprus Open on Sunday.

Shinkwin birdied the first extra hole to secure victory after the pair had finished tied on 20 under par.

“Winning on the European Tour is something I’ve always wanted to do and now I have,” said the 27-year-old Englishman, who lost his Tour card at the end of 2018. “It’s been a bit of a shock, but it feels great.”

Shinkwin, who lost a playoff for the Scottish Open in 2017, had earlier produced a spectacular finish to set the clubhouse target following a closing 63.

Shinkwin was two shots behind with two holes to play but birdied the 17th and then holed from 50 feet for an eagle on the 18th to complete a back nine of 29.

“I could see the scoreboard and Kalle was on 19 (under) and I was on 18,” Shinkwin said. “There was no chance really to hole that putt normally, it was one in a million you’re going to hole it from that distance and my aim was to try and two putt.”

Samooja needed to match Shinkwin’s eagle to win in regulation and saw his long-range attempt run five feet past the hole. He held his nerve to hole the birdie putt to finish with a 64 and force extra holes.

The 32-year-old Finn then left himself with an almost identical birdie putt to extend the playoff, but pushed it agonizingly wide of the hole.

Overnight leader Jamie Donaldson, who needed on-course treatment for a back problem, carded a closing 67 to finish in a tie for third on 18 under with Robert MacIntyre (65) and Garrick Higgo (65).

Canadian Aaron Cockerill finished the tournament in a tie for 14th. The player from Teulon, Man., scored a 66 in the final round and climbed 13 spots from his Saturday position.

European Tour

Different kind of driving for golfer Aaron Cockerill on Euro Tour this season

Aaron Cockerill
Aaron Cockerill (Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

Aaron Cockerill is really getting to know his caddie Stuart Beck this season on the European Tour. It’s the deep kind of familiarity that can only come from a long road trip.

Cockerill, from Stony Mountain, Man., is the lone Canadian on the European Tour and will be start play in the U.K. Championship just outside of Birmingham, England, on Thursday. It’s the sixth consecutive event he’s played in Britain, essentially giving him a six-week trip around England and Wales, driving from tournament to tournament with Beck.

“Lots of time together. He’s probably getting sick of me,” said Cockerill with a laugh. “They’ve created a pod system within (the Euro Tour’s) bubble so you can only eat dinner with your caddie and one other player and their caddie, so you can only hang out with a couple of people all week.”

SUTTON COLDFIELD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Aaron Cockerill of Canada and his caddie look on during Day 3 of the ISPS HANDA UK Championship at The Belfry on August 29, 2020 in Sutton Coldfield, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Cockerill noted that even within his small dining pod – he and Beck have been eating with American Johannes Veerman recently – the tables are “hilariously” far apart.

The life on the road is a product of the Euro Tour’s approach to COVID-19 safety protocols. Instead of playing in a different country each week, the tour has created multi-week swings through one country at a time. There are several benefits to the new system, including the tour booking all the accommodations for the golfers to ensure they remain within their bubble. It also means the golfers have fewer travel documents to sort out.

“Last year you’d finish a tournament and then fly what seemed like halfway around the world and a few time zones over,” said Cockerill. “Honestly, it’s been great because it’s just been so much easier. … It’s really simple. You just show up and play golf.”

Cockerill tied for 53rd at the British Masters on July 25, missed the cut at the English Open on Aug. 2, tied for 26th at the English Championship on Aug. 9, and tied for 14th at the Celtic Classic on Aug. 16.

A tie for 53rd at the Wales Open on Sunday moved him up four spots in the Race to Dubai rankings, placing him in 152nd heading into play on Thursday. The top 110 cards keep their cards next season.

“It’s been fun but it’s also been five weeks in a row and I’m starting to get tired,” said Cockerill, who plans to skip the European Tour’s swing through the Iberian peninsula. “I’m looking forward to getting home.”

After a few weeks back home – Cockerill and his fiancee just purchased a new home in Winnipeg – he plans on returning to Great Britain for the Euro Tour’s second circuit, this time with stops in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England.

European Tour PGA TOUR

Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup rescheduled for 2021 and 2022, respectively

Presidents Cup
MELBOURNE, VIC - DECEMBER 15: The Presidents Cup is seen prior to presentation during the final round of The Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club on December 15, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The PGA of America, Ryder Cup Europe and the PGA TOUR jointly announced today that both the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup have been rescheduled and will now be played one year later than originally planned.

The 43rd Ryder Cup, scheduled for September 22-27, at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, has been rescheduled for September 21-26, 2021.

Likewise, the Presidents Cup, initially slated for September 30-October 3, 2021, at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, will now be played September 19-25, 2022.

The decision to reschedule the Ryder Cup was based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and in conjunction with the state of Wisconsin and Sheboygan County, with the health and well-being of all involved as the top priority.

“Unlike other major sporting events that are played in existing stadiums, we had to make a decision now about building facilities to host the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits,” said PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh. “It became clear that as of today, our medical experts and the public authorities in Wisconsin could not give us certainty that conducting an event responsibly with thousands of spectators in September would be possible. Given that uncertainty, we knew rescheduling was the right call. We are grateful to PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan and our partners at the TOUR for their flexibility and generosity in the complex task of shifting the global golf calendar.

“As disappointing as this is, our mandate to do all we can to safeguard public health is what matters most. The spectators who support both the U.S. and European sides are what make the Ryder Cup such a unique and compelling event and playing without them was not a realistic option. We stand united with our partners from Ryder Cup Europe, the NBC Sports Group, Sky and our other broadcast partners around the world. We look forward to delivering the Ryder Cup’s renowned pageantry, emotion and competitive drama to a global audience in 2021.”

Guy Kinnings, Europe’s Ryder Cup Director, said: “The Ryder Cup is rightly celebrated as one of the world’s greatest sporting occasions, made special and totally unique in our sport by the fervent atmosphere created by the passionate spectators of both sides.

“While that point is significant, it is not as important as the health of the spectators which, in these difficult times, is always the main consideration. We considered all options including playing with a limited attendance but all our stakeholders agreed this would dilute the magic of this great occasion.

“We therefore stand beside our partners at the PGA of America in the decision to postpone the Ryder Cup for a year and join with them in extending our thanks to the PGA TOUR for their willingness to move the dates of the Presidents Cup.

“We also thank NBC, Sky and our many broadcast partners around the globe, in addition to the worldwide partners of this great event, whose support and commitment are second to none.”

Adam Hadwin

With the decision to play the 2020 Ryder Cup in September 2021, all subsequent Ryder Cups after Whistling Straits will also shift to odd years: 2023/Marco Simone Golf and Country Club (Rome, Italy); 2025/Bethpage Black (Farmingdale, New York); 2027/Adare Manor (County Limerick, Ireland); 2029/Hazeltine National Golf Club (Chaska, Minnesota); 2031/Europe (to be determined); 2033/The Olympic Club (San Francisco); 2035/Europe (to be determined); 2037/Congressional Country Club (Bethesda, Maryland).

With the momentum of the successful 2019 Presidents Cup played in Melbourne, Australia, the 14th playing of the Presidents Cup will now be hosted for the first time in the Southeast United States at Quail Hollow Club in 2022.

“These two premier international team events are lifted by the spirit of the fans,” said Monahan. “With the uncertainty of the current climate, we fully support the Ryder Cup’s decision to delay a year in order to ensure fans could be a part of the incredible atmosphere in Wisconsin, and the delay of this year’s Presidents Cup was the right decision in order to allow for that option. We are thankful that our global partners, our friends at Quail Hollow Club, our long-time annual title sponsor in Charlotte and all associated with the Presidents Cup and the Junior Presidents Cup have approached this change with a unified, positive spirit. We are confident the move will give us even more runway as we bring the Presidents Cup to Charlotte in 2022.”

Additionally, as a result of the Presidents Cup date change, the Wells Fargo Championship will be played at its traditional venue at Quail Hollow Club in 2021, at TPC Potomac in 2022 during the Presidents Cup year and will return to Quail Hollow in 2023. Presidents Cup 2022 qualifying will be determined at a later date.

The Ryder Cup, which began in 1927, brings together the finest tour professionals from the United States and Europe.

“While it is disappointing that the Ryder Cup won’t be played this year, the decision to reschedule is the right thing to do under the circumstances,” said U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Steve Stricker. “At the end of the day, we want to stage a Ryder Cup that will rival all other Ryder Cups in my home state of Wisconsin, and now we have the opportunity to showcase the event as it was meant to be seen.”

Pádraig Harrington, Captain of the European Ryder Cup Team, said: “Rescheduling the Ryder Cup was never going to be an easy decision given the many factors to take into consideration. But I believe it is the right assessment given the unprecedented circumstances we are facing at this time.

“When you think of the Ryder Cup you think of the distinctive atmosphere generated by the spectators, such as around the first tee at Le Golf National two years ago. If that cannot be responsibly recreated at Whistling Straits in September, then it is correct that we all wait until it can be.

“I know, right now, that September 2021 feels like a long time away. But it will come around quickly and I guarantee that the European players and I will be ready when it does.”

For Ryder Cup qualifying, both the United States and European teams will revisit their respective selection processes in the near future.

In a corresponding decision, the PGA of America and Ryder Cup Europe also announced that the Junior Ryder Cup will be rescheduled for September 20-21, 2021 at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. It was originally scheduled for September 21-22, 2020.

European Tour PGA TOUR

Conners sits 3 back of leader Rory McIlroy at Mexico Championship

Corey Conners
Corey Conners

MEXICO CITY – Rory McIlroy switched back to his old putter for the Mexico Championship and it made a world of difference. It helps that he’s still hitting the ball like the No. 1 player in the world.

McIlroy ripped a 4-iron from 275 yards into the thin air at Chapultepec to 15 feet for eagle on his second hole Thursday, made five more birdies and opened the Mexico Championship with a 6-under 65 for a two-shot lead.

This is the only World Golf Championship that McIlroy hasn’t won as he tries to join Dustin Johnson as the only players to win all four of them.

Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson were at 67 while Canadian Corey Conners shot a 68.

Abraham Ancer of Mexico got some of the biggest cheers, especially when he ran off three straight birdies to overcome a rough start. He opened with a 70.

The course, at about 7,800 feet above sea level, is ideal for McIlroy the way he launched the ball.

But this was about his putting. He took only 26 putts and ranked No. 4 in the key putting statistic for the round.

He attributes that to his regular 34-inch putter. A week ago at Riviera, he tried a 35-inch putter to help get his shoulder and elbow in a better position. But he said it hurt with lining up the putts, and it cost him. McIlroy was tied for the 54-hole lead and shot 73 in the final round – including a triple bogey on the fifth hole – and tied for fifth

“It didn’t quite work out the way I want it to, so I went back to the 34-inch,” he said. “I just felt a little bit more comfortable today and was seeing my lines a little bit better. And yeah, it was a good day.”

As for swing? Efficient as ever.

The best example of his advantage was the par-5 15th hole early in his round. U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, who hits low-trajectory bullets, caught it a little high on the face of the club and it came out low with little spin. McIlroy launched a rocket and was 55 yards past him.

Corey Conners
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – FEBRUARY 20: Corey Conners of Canada checks his yardage book on the 18th green during the first round of the World Golf Championships Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec on February 20, 2020 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

McIlroy, the reigning hit 9-iron from 192 yards that set up a two-putt birdie. It was like that all day.

“I think with the fairways being so soft, as well, on a coule of the par 5s I teed it up high and sort of launched it,” he said. “And then even the drive on the eighth hole, getting it up and over the trees, I hit a 9-iron in there, where Gary and Tommy (Fleetwood) were hitting 6’s in. So that’s a pretty big difference.”

Woodland was even with him until a few mistakes on the front nine sent him to a 70. He’s not about to change his game for one week in high altitude.

“Rory likes to hit it up in the air,” Woodland said. “This golf course … I’m surprised he hasn’t won here because it suits up perfectly for him.”

McIlroy played nicely last year, finishing at 16-under 268, and lost by five shots to Dustin Johnson, another guy whom the course suits well – just not this year.

Johnson, who has gone a year without winning, opened with a 76, his highest opening round since the British Open at Carnoustie in 2018. His only birdie was on No. 1 after making the turn. He hit 3-wood on 303-yard hole to 8 feet and missed the eagle putt.

Chapultepec has plenty of scoring holes, but it’s easy to get out of position and the poa greens are every bit as difficult to putt as Riviera last week.

Not making it any easier was a wind with gusts up to 15 mph, unusual in the four years this World Golf Championship has come to Mexico City.

“You can go so low, but man, if you’re not playing well, you can shoot over par in a heart beat,” Thomas said. “It’s pretty tough to manage your score.”

Louis Oosthuizen, Billy Horschel, Bryson DeChambeau and Corey Conners were at 67. Conners was in position to keep pace with McIlroy until missing a 10-foot birdie on the 15th hole, and then missing the 18-inch par putt.

Watson arrived in Mexico in a good frame of mind after missing the cut in Los Angeles, where he said he hit the ball great but could make a putt. He stuck around for the weekend, called Justin Bieber and had a foursome of fun at Lakeside.

“Freed it up and just had some fun and realized I was in a good frame of mind,” he said. “Who cares about missing a cut, really? We’ve got other things to worry about.”

His only worry Thursday was wind and elevation, a tough combination.

Jon Rahm, who has a mathematical chance to reach No. 1 with a victory, didn’t make a birdie until the 15th hole and still salvaged a 72. Adam Scott, who won last week at Riviera, opened with a 74, along with Jordan Spieth.

Only 18 players from the 72-man field broke par.

European Tour

Canada’s Aaron Cockerill ready to travel the world on European Tour

Aaron Cockerill
Aaron Cockerill (Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Aaron Cockerill only needed to glance at his phone to find proof that he’d qualified for the European Tour.

Cockerill finished seventh overall at the Q-school event in Tarragona, Spain, on Wednesday, finishing 16-under overall at the six round event to earn a partial exemption on the Euro Tour this season. His cell has been ringing constantly since.

“Oh god. My phone hasn’t stopped buzzing for a couple of days,” said Cockerill during a layover on his way home to Stony Mountain, Man., 35 minutes north of Winnipeg. “It was cool to see a lot of people that I’ve run across in the past reach out, message me and all the kind words that everyone’s had to say.

“I just had a seven-hour flight and I’m pretty cheap so I don’t normally buy the Wi-Fi but I bought the Wi-Fi and I was basically going through my phone for seven hours responding to people and going through social media.”

The 27-year-old Cockerill struggled in the first round, firing a 2-over 73 but recovered with a 66-69-67-68-69 line at Lumine Golf Club to finish nine strokes behind winner Benjamin Poke of Denmark in front of a crowd that included his parents.

“My parents had never been over to Europe before and they decided to come over, so that was pretty special to have them there,” said Cockerill. “It’s a hard game, so it was pretty emotional. When I was done it was exciting and a relief.”

Cockerill has spent portions of his professional career on Canada’s Mackenzie Tour and the Challenger Tour. He’s also played in events in China and Australia. He’s excited for the new challenge the European Tour represents.

“The world ranking points, the purses, the schedule, it’s a massive difference. It’s probably the second biggest tour in the world behind the PGA Tour, right?” said Cockerill. “I’m super excited to play. Other than the PGA Tour it’s probably the best tour you can play.”

Cockerill doesn’t yet know what tournaments he’ll play on for the entire season since he has a limited exemption as a Q-school qualifier.

However, he does know that he’ll be playing in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in Malelane, South Africa next Thursday, then compete in the AFRASIA BANK Mauritius Open on Dec. 5 before heading Down Under for the Australian PGA Championship in Gold Coast on Dec. 19 before returning to Manitoba for Christmas.

Just days into the new chapter of his career, Cockerill’s still processing what it means to be on the European Tour.

“I’ve thought about it a little bit, but I’m also trying to figure out so many things right now in terms of schedule and flights for the next one that I haven’t had too much time to think about it,” said Cockerill. “It’s exciting to be playing in these bigger events. Some of the guys I know who got through last year turned it into a lot more, like full cards for the next year and better schedules. It’s just really exciting.”