Canadians coming along

IAN HUTCHINSON

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

There were times this past long weekend when it seemed that Canadians would have more to celebrate than Victoria Day or the Ottawa Senators' ticket to the Stanley Cup final.

For awhile, it looked as if a couple of Canucks might win on the levels below the PGA Tour, but alas, it was not to be as David Hearn couldn't hang on after that glittering 63 on Thursday at the Nationwide Tour's BMW Charity Challenge at The Cliffs and fell out of contention, but still got a top-10.

Oshawa's Derek Gillespie went into the final round of the Canadian Tour's Iberostar Riviera Maya Open with a one-shot lead, but gave way to red-hot Californian Spencer Levin yesterday and finished second, one shot off the lead.

NEITHER WON

Since neither won, the temptation might be to hit the mute button on enthusiasm, but Canadian performances worth watching are becoming commonplace this season at the lower levels of the pro game.

Granted, it's still early and there's still that nasty bit of business called Q-School, where hopes and dreams are shattered more often than not. Still, Aurora's David Morland was 12th on the Nationwide Tour money list last week, a position that would earn him a direct return to the PGA Tour if the season ended today.

Calgary's Chris Baryla and Vancouver's Bryn Parry were 26th and 36th, respectively, after both lost in a playoff at the recent Henrico County Open. That puts them in contention to take a run at the top 20 that would also earn them a promotion, without having to even bother with Q-School.

On the Canadian Tour, Calgary's Wes Heffernan has incentive to continue his fine play. He was second on that circuit's money list last week and if he stays in the top six, he goes to the Canadian Open. If he's in the top two at the end of the season, he bypasses the first stage of Q-school and goes directly to stage two.

Heffernan, 30, has won twice this season and those victories were accomplished in entirely different ways. He needed a birdie on the final hole to secure top spot at the Northern California Classic, but his most recent win at the Riviera Nayarit Classic in Mexico saw him finish five shots better than his closest rivals.

Heffernan says winning in two different ways just builds his confidence that he can now win when he gets into contention and while two very different victories this season are definitely steps forward, he doesn't believe this is his breakthrough year.

"I think maybe last year was more, in my mind, a breakthrough year because I got a lot of confidence from that. I played really well in my last seven events," said Heffernan, who got his first Canadian Tour win at the 2006 Casino de Montreal Open Players Championship, one of five top-10s towards the end of the season.

Heffernan, who won't return to action until the Canadian Tour resumes in mid-July in Victoria, has been rolling ever since. He definitely is in a rhythm, but he wants to stay grounded.

He realizes there still is a lot of season left. He knows that, even if he does go directly to the second stage of Q-school, it's a stage he has yet to get past. He says he would be completely happy with his Nationwide Tour card for next season.

It's a delicate balancing act, trying to be confident, yet humble. As far as the latter goes, the soft-spoken Heffernan seems to come by that naturally, but his success thus far is at least one sign that Canadians below the PGA Tour are coming around in a season that was expected to be a dog in that regard.

NO SURPRISE

To Heffernan, it's not that big of a surprise. When he played on the 2000 Canadian World Amateur team, he had teammates such as Jon Mills, who played on the PGA last year and is back on the Nationwide Tour, and Gillespie.

"I remember about five years ago, a lot of people were asking, 'What's wrong with the young Canadian players?' It made me mad," said Heffernan, who was runner-up at the 1999 Canadian Amateur. "It was just a matter of time."

It still is a matter of time because there's lots of that left this season before these players can start thinking about making the next step in their respective careers. However, the signs that some may do that definitely are there.


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