Sobel’s 2019 RBC Canadian Open Preview: Will the Big Names Be Motivated?

Sobel’s 2019 RBC Canadian Open Preview: Will the Big Names Be Motivated? article feature image
Credit:

Peter Casey, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Sergio Garcia

  • Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka are at the top of the board for the RBC Canadian Open.
  • Read Jason Sobel's betting preview for the final tournament before the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Even those of us lucky enough to own the leisurely-paced job of watching golf for a living need a little vacation every few years, so full disclosure: I’m writing this preview column early, before many thoughts have fully formed in regard to this week’s RBC Canadian Open.

One aspect of this tourney, though, won’t change before Thursday morning’s opening tee shot: This is The Return of Koepka.

PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka will make his first start since winning his fourth major title at Bethpage Black, unsurprisingly competing the week before going after a U.S. Open three-peat.

I say “unsurprisingly” because Koepka is fully cognizant of what it means for him to play the week prior to a major championship.

“I like to play the week before,” he told me before the PGA. “I think it’s something that’s kind of helped me. Every time I’ve won, I’ve played the week before. We’ve looked at stats, we’ve looked at everything, and trying to figure out how I can better myself when it comes to a major. And I think playing that week before, building a rhythm, just getting a little bit more touch, a little bit more feel, and then working on whatever I need to work on, it’s pretty simple.”

Obviously, the formula is working for him, as he again played the week before that tournament and again wound up the champion. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that he’s simply using these pre-major events to get some batting practice reps and find his game.

Here’s how he’s fared in tourneys the week before he’s won a major:

  • 2017 FedEx St. Jude Classic: T-37
  • 2018 FedEx St. Jude Classic: T-30
  • 2018 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: 5th
  • 2019 AT&T Byron Nelson: 4th

Those last two occasions, in particular, have seen Koepka grind his way into contention – and they could offer some insight into what we’ll see from him this week, where he’s the second-favorite at +600 behind defending champion Dustin Johnson (+550).

But there’s another part of this which favors Koepka backers, too: He’s well aware of his growing reputation for winning majors and nothing but majors.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Koepka easily could’ve said, “All those other tournaments bore me, I only care about the big ones.” Instead, after his most recent victory, he offered, “I’ve played great a lot of times. I’ve just finished second so many times. Second sucks, but I’ve played good every time. So I need to take it over to regular Tour events and start winning there, too. There’s no reason I can’t.”

For a guy who notoriously plays golf with a massive chip resting on his shoulder, the sentiment of all-he-does-is-win-majors could be enough to motivate him to bring his best stuff north of the border.

We tend to insta-fade elite players in these major tune-ups when they appear more focused on the next week than the current one, but recent history and public perception could mean Koepka is more inspired than ever to claim two in a row.

Let’s get to other picks for one of the more star-studded Canadian Open fields in recent memory. Back at Hamilton Golf & CC for the fourth time in tournament history and first since 2012, the sub-7,000-yard track should offer a nice correlation to recent host venues such as Harbour Town and Colonial.

Sergio Garcia (25-1)

Just call him the anti-Koepka. Not that the past Masters champion can’t play well at majors, but so far this year he’s MC’d at the two big ones, but owns six top-10 results in his other 10 starts. That includes a Koepka-like T-5 and T-4 in his previous two starts before majors.

Webb Simpson (20-1)

There are no appearance fees on the PGA Tour, buuuuuut… there’s also a reason some big-name studs are playing this week and it has a lot to do with that RBC logo on their golf bags.

Some will trudge across the border and fulfill their mandatory sponsor obligation, while others will beam at the prospect of impressing the guys who sign the checks. I mean this as no disrespect, but Simpson has often assumed the role of the latter, a player who treats these events as more opportunity than obligation.

Scott Piercy (25-1)

He’s the reigning champion at Hamilton, having won here seven years ago, by one stroke over William McGirt and Robert Garrigus. But that’s not the only reason I like him.

Piercy has enjoyed a resurgent year that has largely gone overlooked, posting six top-20 results in 12 starts so far. He’s also enjoyed success on some of those short, tight tracks.

Ryan Palmer (50-1)

Let’s see … a course which correlates to Harbour Town and Colonial? Well, there are some obvious choices here, as C.T. Pan, Jordan Spieth and Rory Sabbatini were each top-10 at both of those events — except none are in the field.

Ouch. Instead, let’s check out Palmer, co-winner of the Zurich Classic, who was T-28 and T-6 at those two other tourneys, respectively.

Jason Dufner (40-1)

On a track which should neutralize putting a bit, Dufner’s ball-striking prowess should stand out as an important stat.

Bud Cauley (40-1)

He received plenty of attention for contending at the Memorial Tournament one year after suffering season-ending injuries in a car accident not far from that course. That should provide some nice momentum moving forward for him this week.

Austin Cook (80-1)

It took him a while to get going this year, but Cook firmly has his foot on the pedal right now while others might be running out of gas. He’s easily one of my favorite picks on this board.

Mackenzie Hughes (100-1)

Admit it: You want to take a Canadian in Canada. There hasn’t been one to win his country’s national championship since Pat Fletcher in 1954, but with 10 Canadian pros in this week’s field, we have some options. My favorite is Hughes, who’s shown some nice form in recent months.

Michael Gligic (400-1)

Want a total dark horse? Look no further than Gligic, another native of Canada whose work on the Web.com Tour has been impressive enough to already lock up his PGA Tour card for next season and could be a nice low-priced DFS option.

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