OAKVILLE, Ontario — Brendan Steele topped the Canadian Open leaderboard Thursday at 7-under 65, birdieing five of the first seven holes on his back nine at Glen Abbey.
“I love being up here,” Steele said. “I played in ‘06 and ‘07 on PGA Tour Canada now. And really, got me ready to play the Nationwide Tour, which I played in ‘08, ‘09 and ‘10. It was a great progression in my life. I had a great time up here. Made a lot of friends and spent two summers traveling the country.”
The 30-year-old American had eight birdies and a bogey, dropping a shot on his final hole — the par-4 ninth. He won the 2011 Texas Open for his long PGA Tour title.
“Really, just an overall good day,” Steele said. “Hit a lot of good shots and was able to hole some putts. When you have a good round like that and you play that well, you kind of have everything going. But today was probably the most complete round that I’ve had all year, so that was kind of nice. Didn’t miss many greens, didn’t hit many shots off line, and I was able to roll a few putts in.”
Matt Kuchar, a two-time winner this year, was a stroke back along with Scott Gardiner and Scott Brown. Kuchar eagled the par-5 18th hole, his ninth hole of the day.
“It was fun to be out here. It was perfect conditions,” Kuchar said. “I feel like last week, conditions were so challenging and so difficult at the British Open, to come here and to play golf that is more friendly and more what we’re used to the PGA Tour was great.
“The conditions are spectacular. The course is in great shape. We had very little wind, good temperature, so it was a great opportunity. The par 5s are all attainable and birdieable.”
Gardiner was tied for the lead after eagleing the par-3 15th hole, but he bogeyed on the next hole.
“Actually, didn’t hit that bad a drive on 16, and went left and got stuck behind a tree and had to lay up,” Gardiner said. “And then I hit a pretty good. I missed a 4-foot putt.”
Hunter Mahan and David Lingmerth shot 67, and Chez Reavie, the 2008 winner at Glen Abbey, was another stroke back in a group that included Bubba Watson and Trevor Immelman.
“Gave myself a lot of good looks and the greens were rolling true,” Mahan said. “It’s in great shape right now. In the morning, we’ll have perfect conditions.”
Brandt Snedeker opened with a 70, and Ernie Els and defending champion Scott Piercy followed at 71. Piercy won last year at Hamilton Golf & Country Club.
Luke Donald, Charl Schwartzel and Canadian Mike Weir shot 73, Dustin Johnson struggled to a 75, and Graeme McDowell had a 76.
Brad Fritsch was the top Canadian at 69. David Hearn, a playoff loser this month in the John Deere Classic, followed at 70.
Pat Fletcher, born in England, was the last Canadian winner, taking the 1954 event at Point Grey in Vancouver. Carl Keffer is the only Canadian-born champion, winning in 1909 and 1914. Albert Murray, a Canadian also born in England, won in 1908 and 1913.
Fritsch birdied his final three holes.
“I think I hit less than 50 percent of the fairways, but I think that’s just the nature of this golf course,” Fritsch said. “I looked like I got some horrendous bounces. When I was expecting one way, it went the other, and that led to a little bit of frustration. But I stayed patient.”
Sauers on top at Senior British
SOUTHPORT, England — American Gene Sauers shot a 3-under 67 in windy conditions at Royal Birkdale to take the first-round lead in the Senior British Open.
Germany’s Bernhard Langer, the 2010 winner, was a stroke back along with South Africa’s David Frost, Australia’s Peter Senior and the Philippines’ Frankie Minoza.
Defending champion Fred Couples opened with a 74.
Three tied for Russian Open lead
MOSCOW — England’s Simon Dyson, Sweden’s Rikard Karlberg and China’s Liang Wen-chong shot 5-under 67 to share the first-round lead in the European Tour’s Russian Open.