Highs and lows of '06 season

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

One of the feel-good stories of the 2006 Canadian golf season might never have been noticed by most of this country had the Canadian Open been in the predicament it faces in 2007.

The national championship is in enough hot water after the PGA Tour stacked the deck against it and gave it that brutal date right after the British Open, a decision that complicated the search for a title sponsor, which has yet to appear and definitely won't until sometime in '07 at the earliest.

An added snag, among many, is that, beginning in 2007, the Open will be shown on The Golf Channel and CBS, which likely means little attention to Canadians, even if it is their national championship.

On the stately grounds of the Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster, a Canadian youngster with a wide smile and plug-in electric plaid pants didn't realize he was supposed to fade away.

Victor Ciesielski of Cambridge earned his ticket into the 2006 Open through Monday qualifying, then posted a two-under 68 to lead all Canadians after the first round. A hole-in-one on Friday was the highlight of an even-par 70 as Ciesielski made the cut in his first tour event.

His galleries grew and Ciesielski continued his hot hand with a third round 69 before a 77 on Sunday left him at four-over and tied for 72nd, but that didn't take away from the buzz he'd provided.

Ciesielski started his first year at the University of Waterloo the next day at 8:30 a.m., got lost going to his second class, but a maintenance man who recognized him from the Open helped him find his way.

Ciesielski has won individual titles at four collegiate events, while the Waterloo team had six victories to qualify for nationals next year. Ciesielski was named to the 2007 national men's team and says CBS and The Golf Channel will do a good job, but he would like to see a Canadian presence.

"I got so much support from places like Nova Scotia and B.C. I'd like to see other Canadians get that kind of exposure. Mine was a bit of a Cinderella story and all of Canada got behind me. The Canadian networks and media did an excellent job and it felt really nice for me," Ciesielski said.

Ciesielski isn't the only Canadian to spin a golden long-shot story in 2006 as Jim Rutledge of Victoria won the New Zealand PGA Championship and held on to gain his PGA Tour card through the Nationwide Tour money list. Often a victim of hard luck, Rutledge will play as a 47-year-old rookie next year.

Stephen Ames' win at The Players Championship, a successful debut for the CN Canadian Women's Open in London, a second-place finish for Canada at the World Amateur Team Championship and Richard Scott's third Canadian Amateur title all stand out as highlights of 2006.

However, there is a dark side. While there is concern for the Canadian Open's future, the same holds true for the Canadian PGA Championship, which wasn't played this year because of the lack of a title sponsor.

The ranks of Canadians are thinning on the major tours.

Rutledge, Mike Weir and Ames will be the only full-time Canadians on PGA Tour in 2007.

On the LPGA Tour, Lorie Kane, Dawn Coe-Jones, Alena Sharp and A.J. Eathorne -- on a medical extension -- will play full time.

This is a feel-good time of year, but 2007 promises to be a mirror image of '06.


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