Els receives royal treatment at Canadian Open

Ernie Els of South Africa speaks about the upcoming week at a press conference before the 2012...

Ernie Els of South Africa speaks about the upcoming week at a press conference before the 2012 Canadian Open in Ancaster, Ont. on Wednesday, July 25, 2012. (Veronica Henri/QMI Agency)

DAVE HILSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:33 PM ET

ANCASTER, ONT. - Sean O’Hair might be the Canadian Open defending champion but he clearly wasn’t the most popular guy at Hamilton Golf and Country Club on a hot and sunny Wednesday afternoon.

British Open champion Ernie Els was received like a conquering hero by fans at the 7,000-yard track and by a packed press room in the Canadian Open media centre.

Fresh of his win at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Els sat with the Claret Jug nearby, a testament to how his game has come around in the past year, explaining to reporters that he had never really intended to “blow off” our national championship the way he had joked while accepting the trophy in England.

“No, no, no. I was just trying to blow off the Monday. I should choose my words more carefully next time,” a chucking Els told reporters. “I was always coming (to Canada) and I was just trying to get out of that Monday, which I did. I went home Sunday night to London and we had a great party, as you can imagine.”

At 42 years of age, Els has had his recent struggles and been showing many of reaching the end of his prime, but a clutch birdie putt on the 72nd hole of last week’s British Open, and the now-infamous collapse by Adam Scott over the final four holes, propelled the South African to his fourth major title.

It also shoved him back into the spotlight.

“I had to make birdies coming in, and eventually the one on 18 fell,” Els said of his victory over Scott. “I felt good about the putt. We were really elated when it went in, but I wasn’t quite sure it was going to be enough.

But at least we gave it a good shot. So it was great having Ricci (Roberts, his caddie) on the green there. It was great celebrating with him a little bit.” Els won’t have Roberts on his bag when he tees it up in Hamilton Thursday, saddled with the tough task of trying to keep his mind on his game after having just won one of the most prestigious titles in all of sport.

Instead, former NHLer Dan Quinn, as is often the case, will be toting the Big Easy’s bag around a course on which he has only played five holes.

“I haven’t prepared on the golf course the way maybe I wanted to, but I feel very fresh you know,” Els said. “I don’t know if it’s such a disadvantage because a lot of times you play a course and you don’t know where the trouble is, so maybe that’s a good thing. You get your yardage, you hit it to your spots and from there you go to your next spot. So I went through the yardage, I saw a couple of holes. I’ll be fresh and ready to go tomorrow. I’ll be competing at 100%.”

While all eyes were on Els, nobody seemed to notice O’Hair slip in and out of the media centre. Hardly anybody showed for the defending champ’s press conference. But O’Hair will, no doubt, be trying to build on last year’s victory at Shaugnessy Golf and Country Club and what has been fairly solid campaign so far.

“Coming into the event last year, I wasn’t very sharp to say the least,” O’Hair said. “Right now, though, it feels kind of the opposite. I’ve been making a lot of cuts, I think I’ve only missed three and been playing pretty solid. I’m playing some nice golf, so I look forward to this week.”

While both Els and O’Hair will be in a strong field that includes two-time winner Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Charl Schwartezel, former winner Vijay Singh and Hunter Mahan, weather could also come into play. O’Hair said the dry conditions could make the course a lot tougher as the week goes on, but the forecast is actually calling for thunder showers over the next several days.

WEIR PLUMMETS

To say the fortunes of Canadian Mike Weir have plummeted would be a gross understatement.

The man who once carried the mantle as our nation’s top golfer hasn’t made a cut on the PGA Tour this season and has fallen so far in the world rankings he can’t even be found in the top 1,000.

Things are so bad for the 2003 Masters champion that even the competition is pulling for him.

Two-time Canadian Open winner Jim Furyk said after his pro-am round Wednesday at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club in preparation for this week’s Open that he would like to see Weir win the event.

Furyk said he was approached by a man in a local grocery store this week who wished the American well, but added humbly that he thought this might be the tournament Weir gets back in the winner’s circle.

“I said, ‘I’ll be honest with you, I hope you’re right,’” Furyk told a press conference. “I think it would be great. It would be a great story.

Mike’s a friend of mine, so I care about how he’s doing ... He has carried the flag up here for years and years and probably carries a little bit more pressure than the rest of us do.” But a win by Weir, who has struggled with injury and his game, would be nothing short of a miracle, and even the native of Brights Grove, Ont., playing the Open only through a sponsor’s exemption, probably knows it.

“The expectations aren’t there,” said the 42-year-old Weir, who is making his 21st consecutive Canadian Open start and 22nd overall.

“The state of my game hasn’t been very good at all, but I’m a worker, that’s what I do and hopefully you get it back.

“The last couple of months I’ve hit a lot of balls. That’s kind of the process to get back. Get that workload up and start building some good habits again ... I’ve seen some encouraging signs.” One of those signs would be for Weir just to make the cut this week.


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