McQuillan early Canuck leader

MIKE KOREEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

Matt McQuillan seems to be embracing the spotlight.

With his bartending background story making the rounds and the eyes of family members, friends and Canadian golf fans on him, the Kingston native simply went about his business on Thursday at the RBC Canadian Open.

The result was his 10th consecutive round of par or better — a two-under 68 — and low Canuck honours for the first round at the Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club.

“There are definitely more nerves for this one,” McQuillan said over the phone on Thursday night. “Playing well in consecutive weeks (a tie for third a the John Deere Classic and a tie for 34th at the Viking Classic), there are higher expectations for me. It's just really nice to produce a good round.”

The PGA Tour rookie, who has worked on adding more flight to his ball in recent weeks, flirted with the lead late in his morning round. After making three birdies and one bogey from Nos. 13 to 16 to get to two-under, McQuillan just missed birdie putts on Nos. 17 and 18. If he drained either one, McQuillan would have been in a share for the lead with Kris Blanks.

However, the qualifying school graduate is not going to complain about his score or being one shot back of the lead. The group at two-under includes three-time major winner Ernie Els.

“It's very tough,” McQuillan said of Shaughnessy, which showed its teeth all day. “But I really like courses where par is a good score.”

McQuillan, 30, flew out of Mississippi, site of the Viking Classic, at 6:25 a.m. on Monday to maximize his time in Vancouver. He's kept plenty busy.

As the top Canadian at the past two PGA Tour events, McQuillan has become an intriguing story, resulting in a healthy chunk of media exposure — he made a live appearance on a Vancouver morning television show earlier in the week, bouncing a golf ball on his club.

The Golf Channel joined the bandwagon on Thursday, showing many of his late shots and then bringing him to the studio for a live post-round interview.

Of course, there has been talk about his previous life as a working stiff — a few years ago, he stepped away from the competitive side of the game and worked the bar at a local pizza restaurant.

“It's been great,” said McQuillan. “There has been lots of attention, but it's good attention. It's been nice to soak it all up. I'm just trying not to say something stupid on live TV.”

McQuillan has a solid crew of supporters on hand — his mother, Donna, his sister, Cortney, and his cousin, Corey Blakely, made the trip from Kingston and were scheduled to join him for dinner Thursday night. His agent, Bernie Breen, also is there along with his cousin Shaun McQuillan, who made the 10-hour drive from Banff with five friends to catch the action live.

Matt's dad, Mark, couldn't make the trip because of work commitments (he's an electrician), but got home in time to catch the final hole and his son's TV interview.

“When they flash the first page (of the leaderboard) and you see Matt's name on there, you just feel pretty proud,” Mark said. “I guess he really is on a roll the last few weeks. It's been fun to watch ever since that John Deere Classic.

“I think he's coming into his own,” Mark continued. “I don't know what he's found or if he looked at himself in the mirror and gave himself a good talking to. I don't really talk to him about that. You just let him do what he's doing and obviously it's the right thing.”

So now Matt McQuillan enters the second round leading a 17-player home country contingent. The last Canadian to win the Canadian Open was Pat Fletcher in 1954.

“With all the people pulling for you and being in my home country, there are definitely going to be some nerves,” said McQuillan, who hasn't been shy in acknowledging he'd be nervous in previous weeks.

“But I'm just going to try to keep doing what I've been doing and stay relaxed. It's not a bad thing to be nervous because that shows you really care. The last couple of weeks I've been nervous, but I've been able to play some good golf.”


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