ILE BIZARD, QUE. - South African golfer Tim Clark barely stands 5-foot-7.
But he was a giant on Sunday at the RBC Canadian Open.
And though a Canadian failed to end the decades-long drought at Canada’s national championship, Clark’s victory was a consolation prize of sorts.
There’s something about Canada that agrees with the diminutive golfer.
Clark’s first ever professional win was in the Great White North, the 1998 New Brunswick Open, the same year he left North Carolina State University and turned pro. He also won the Canadian PGA championship that year.
Now, 16 years later, on a hot and wet Royal Montreal Golf Club course, he’s won his second PGA Tour event, beating two-time Canadian Open champion Jim Furyk of the U.S. by one stroke in a thrilling final. Clark finished 17-under par for a four-round total of 263.
“The irony of it is, Canada could be the place of my first win and my last win,” said Clark, who posted a 5-under 65 on Sunday to collect a purse of just over $1 million. \
“To come back here, yeah, full circle. That’s 16 years ago when I was just cutting my teeth as a professional golfer and was fortunate enough to be given some starts up here, as I got ready for Q-school and what not. So I have fond memories. My wife is Canadian (Candice) and she has a lot of family here in the Montreal area. I’ve always enjoyed coming up here and playing. I have a lot of Canadian friends. It’s a big honour.”
Clark sealed his victory at this year’s Canadian Open with a five-foot putt on the par-4 18th hole to avoid a bogey and then embraced his wife and two young children.
But it was his performance throughout the back nine that really propelled the personable Clark to victory. Heading into Sunday’s final round, he trailed Furyk, who won this tournament at Hamilton in 2006 and Angus Glen in 2007, by three strokes.
At the first nine on Sunday, Clark still trailed the West Chester, Pa., native by three. He then decided to change his strategy.
“I played great all week, particularly (Saturday) was a great round of golf, and the front nine today I was just a little out of sorts,” Clark said. “I didn’t quite have it with my golf swing or the putter, but making the turn, I was still only three back, so I was still in the tournament (and) it looked like Jim wasn’t going to make any mistakes. So I knew I had to make birdies and sometimes that can be easier when you know you have to be aggressive. At that point I had nothing to lose. And I suddenly just got hot and I went with it.”
Did he ever.
Clark hit five birdies in the back nine, catching Furyk at the 14th, passing him on the 15th and then holding on. The win was his first on tour since winning the 2010 Players Championship. In 2011 he underwent surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right elbow and wasn’t sure if he would be able to make it all the way back.
“I spent four months trying to rehab,” he said. “And the first few months back was tough. I don’t think I broke 75 for a few months. But you’ve got to keep persevering.”
The final few groups on Sunday, including the threesome of Clark, Furyk and Kyle Stanley, had to break for a 25-minute weather delay when the skies opened up. But Furyk certainly didn’t use that as an excuse. He had a chance to at least force a playoff in the 18th when his approach shot landed on the green much closer than Clark’s did, but he missed a 14-foot putt. Clark holed out his second putt from five feet to win it.
“I shot a 69, I didn’t play a bad round of golf,” said Furyk, who finished fourth at last weekend’s British Open. “I feel my short game, my putting was not very good. And on a day when the greens were this soft (and) the wind wasn’t blowing that much, I only went out and made two birdies.”
Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., finished tied for 7th, seven strokes behind Clark. A Canadian hasn’t won the national championship since Pat Fletcher in 1954. DeLaet shot a 2-under 68 on Sunday in the final round.
“It was fun because so many people were cheering for me,” said DeLaet. “Now I know how Phil and Tiger and those guys feel because it was pretty neat (being in contention in the final round). Coming down 18, it was a special moment.”
Two Canadians finished in the top 10, DeLaet and Ottawa’s Brad Fritsch, who tied for ninth with 271.
The best round of the day belonged to American Dicky Pride, who set a course record 63 (finished T7 overall). He had originally set the course record of 64 at the Royal Montreal at the 2001 Canadian Open.
“I wanted my course record back because I’m an ego-maniac like everyone else,” said the colourful native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “So, yeah, I was very pleased with the finish. I had to get my course record back. In 01 I had the course record for a day and then Scott (Verplank) and (David) Morland beat me the next day. So to tie and go back and get it, I’m pretty happy about that.”