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Hamilton GC up to the task

9/8/2003 - Brad Faxon Bob Tway

HAMILTON, Ontario -- This week's Bell Canadian Open showed there are still a lot of different ways to play golf, and that finesse has just as large a place in today's game as power.

The players, almost to a man, loved Hamilton Golf and Country Club. It proved itself to be very much a U.S. Open-type golf course. At less than 7,000 yards, it wasn't long, yet it forced you to play some creative golf shots.

That might explain why a couple of veterans who aren't exactly know for their prowess off the tee found themselves atop the leaderboard. Or why six of the top 10 finishers -- including both guys in the playoff -- were over the age of 40. One thing all these "over the hill" players have in common is an abundance of experience, and on tricky courses like Hamilton, that's what counts most.

There are plenty of courses these older guys can still contend on. How else can you explain why eight players over the age of 40 have won this year?

As long as you're playing venues that aren't designed for bombers -- Westchester, Hilton Head and Riviera immediately come to mind -- the graying veterans have just as good a chance as the young guns, if not better.

Hamilton was one of those courses. It had some particularly great short holes, where a guy might have a sand wedge in his hand for his approach but still could have a difficult shot. These guys deserve to play a course like this every now and then.

Four observations
1. There were a lot of players who had a chance to win this thing on Sunday afternoon. It was a fun day to watch golf because it was back and forth right to the finish.

A guy would appear to be taking control of the tournament, then would screw up and lose the lead. It was very much like watching a U.S. Open, which is fitting because this is a prestigious national championship in its own right.

It came down to Brad Faxon making a fabulous par putt on the 71st hole, and Bob Tway making an equally clutch par putt on the 72nd hole to force the playoff. Faxon then had a great chance to win on the second playoff hole but missed a very tough downhill 4½-footer.

On the third playoff hole, they both found trouble off the tee, and Faxon tried to force his second shot out of some deep rough and ended up in even more trouble. He wound up making a double bogey, and Tway won it by two-putting from 10 feet.

2. Just five of the top 25 in the World Ranking played here this week, but that was more a product of the unfortunate place in the schedule -- three weeks after the PGA and two weeks after the NEC -- than a reflection on the tournament.

Hamilton hadn't hosted this event since 1930, and almost no one had played the course before this week. I think if guys had known how great it was, a lot of them would have played. I guarantee there are a lot of guys sitting at home thinking, "Geez, I wish I would have gone up there and played."

So much of it has to do with timing. When the Canadian Open was played back in the summer months, it was a championship everyone wanted to win. It was probably the biggest tournament on the schedule other than the four majors.

If you look back at the guys who've won this event, it's a pretty impressive list: Tommy Armour, Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, and, of course, Tiger Woods. Once the event moved into the fall part of the schedule, the quality of the field changed dramatically. It's too bad, because this to me should be more important than some of these made-up World Golf Championship events.

3. Fred Funk is playing the best golf of his career, and it shows. He's having a ball out there. He finished tied for sixth this week, his eighth top-10 of the year.

Funk, 47, was beside himself when Jack Nicklaus chose him to play in his first Presidents Cup. Here's a guy who has put in his time and is finally getting to experience some of this stuff.

4. Ontario came down with Mike Weir fever this week.

Canadians came out in droves to cheer their hometown hero at the Canadian Open. It was like Arnold Palmer 30 years ago, or Tiger Woods in this era. It was like the Beatles coming to town. Sunday, there were flocks of parents with their 8- and 9-year-olds out here, which is great for growing the game. Weir was never really a factor, though. He finished 10th.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North serves as an analyst for ESPN.