Although it was his first trip to Montreal and the extent of his
French is merci, beaucoup, Steve Jones got along fine during
last week's Canadian Open because of his fluency in the
international idiom of golf: body language. The fans at Royal
Montreal Golf Club were so captivated by his leaning, clapping,
grinning and chattering that during Sunday's final round more of
them seemed to be pulling for Jones than for his more famous
playing partner and closest challenger, Greg Norman. "A lot of
them were yelling at me in French," Jones said, "and I'd say,
'Merci, beaucoup.' They could've been cursing me for all I know,
but I sort of figured that most of the time what they were
saying was good."
On the final hole, a 444-yard par-4, Jones, clinging to a
one-shot lead over the grim and relentless Shark, was talking to
himself after hitting his drive into the rough and topping his
four-iron second shot. Then he scraped his ball onto the green,
about 35 feet from the hole, and knocked the putt to within six
inches to save bogey and the tournament, because Norman also
missed the green and bogeyed. "That was one of the best pressure
putts I've ever hit," Jones said. "I was getting tight, and I
told myself to hit it quick before I burst."
As soon as Jones tapped in, the gallery exploded as if he were a
Montrealer instead of a native of Artesia, N.Mex. With a
five-under-par 275 on perhaps the toughest course the pros have
played this year, outside the majors, Jones ended a
14-tournament slump in which he had missed seven cuts and never
finished higher than 22nd.
"Sometimes you've got to loosen up and talk to people more,"
Jones said. "I was sort of like Lee Trevino out there--yak, yak,
yak--and I talked to myself a lot. It's O.K. to talk to
yourself, you know, as long as you don't find yourself saying,
September 14, 1997
Until the final-day heroics, the biggest story of the week had
been--who else?--Tiger Woods. Tigermania overwhelmed Montreal,
proving that even one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities
can be turned into Mayberry. Woods reportedly had to change
hotels at least once to avoid the crush of admirers, and on some
holes his gallery was five- or six-deep along the entire length
of the fairway. "With Norman playing behind us, it was zoo city
out there," said David Ogrin, who played with Woods during the
first two rounds.
Considering the circumstances surrounding Princess Diana's
death, Woods was asked if he had problems with the paparazzi.
"No," he said, "it doesn't seem to happen to sports heroes. It's
hard for people to see what royalty and rock stars actually do,
but they can see us. I've enjoyed the press, except when I'm
asked intrusive questions about my private life."
So, asked a questioner, intrusively, what did he intend to do
for fun during his stay in Montreal? "No comment," said Woods,
Whatever he did, it had to be more fun than the time he put in
at the golf course. After opening with an even-par 70, Woods
skied to a 76 in the second round and, for the first time in his
26-event Tour career, missed the cut, by a stroke. Time and
again Woods's drives wound up in the U.S. Open-length rough, and
he failed to reach the green in regulation. "It's going to
happen," Woods said philosophically. "Even Jack Nicklaus, the
greatest player of all, missed some cuts. I can't play my entire
career without missing a cut."
Nevertheless, because the Canadian Open was Woods's last start
before the Ryder Cup later this month, one couldn't blame U.S.
captain Tom Kite for being a bit concerned, Woods's assurances
that "I'm not that far off" notwithstanding. What's more, Woods
was by no means the only member of Kite's team to play poorly at
Royal Montreal. The normally steady Jim Furyk, who had eight
consecutive top 10 finishes earlier this year, followed his
opening 66 with a fat 80 to miss the cut, as did Mark O'Meara
(72-77). The only Ryder Cuppers who played on the weekend
(excluding Kite, who finished 63rd) were Justin Leonard and
Davis Love III, who tied for sixth, four strokes behind Jones.
Leonard was one of many players to praise Royal Montreal's
6,810-yard Blue Course, which hadn't been the Royal Canadian
Golf Association's choice for the Open since 1980. "The rough is
brutal in places," said Leonard, "but even if you hit it in the
fairways, you're not done, because the greens are very narrow.
There's nothing manufactured. It looks like someone came in and
took down a couple of trees and mowed the grass. That's the sign
of a wonderful golf course."
The Montreal fans were thrilled to get an in-the-flesh view of
the game's stars, and never mind the woman who jabbed a Toronto
Star photographer in the groin with her umbrella, shouting,
"Paparazzi!" Even before le Tigre committed to play, most of
each day's 25,000 tickets had been sold. The fans were so
enthusiastic that Norman, who was playing in Montreal for the
first time, observed, "It's obvious they're golf-hungry here."
For the RCGA, the flip side of the tournament's success was that
the organization found itself under renewed pressure to move the
national championship around the country, as it did until 1977,
when Glen Abbey, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course outside
Toronto, became the Open's permanent home. (The only time the
tournament was held somewhere else since then was the 1980
playing.) The RCGA, which uses the profits from the Canadian
Open to support junior golf and other amateur programs, candidly
admits that holding the tournament at Glen Abbey is strictly a
matter of finances. Because the RCGA owns the course, it keeps
all the profits--about $1.5 million last year--when the
tournament is held there. Royal Montreal gets about half of
whatever last week's event took in.
The move received a ringing endorsement from those U.S. pros who
simply don't like Glen Abbey. "The players treat it as little
more than a regular Tour event there," says Love. "I know there
was a lot of [positive] talk among the players about coming here
this year because of the course. It's a national championship,
and when it moves around, people think of it as a more important
event." The RCGA, however, already has announced that beginning
next season the Canadian Open will be held at Glen Abbey for
five consecutive years.
Norman went to Montreal not so much because of the course but
because of the Tour rule that requires members to play a minimum
of 15 events a year to remain eligible. The Canadian Open was
his 14th start, and the Oct. 30-Nov. 2 Tour Championship will be
his 15th. Norman was grumpy upon his arrival--he said,
sarcastically, that he had decided to play because Montreal was
on the way from his house in Hobe Sound, Fla., to Paris, where
he's scheduled to play in the Trophee Lancome this week. As time
wore on, though, his attitude changed. Last Saturday he got up
early to watch Princess Diana's funeral, then decided to pay
homage to her memory by wearing a black outfit.
After carving out a 69 to move into second place, a stroke
behind Jones entering the final round, a pensive Norman said,
"Watching the funeral and observing all the emotions that people
showed around the world...this was one of the most powerful
mornings, emotionally, that I've ever had in my life. Today,
while I was playing, I reflected on the funeral and thought to
myself how fortunate I am."
Although the Shark played well on Sunday, Jones answered every
challenge. "He would make a mistake, then get a birdie," Norman
said. "I couldn't get my nose in front of him." Indeed, the
38-year-old Jones looked more like the golfer who almost broke
the Tour's alltime scoring record at Phoenix in January than the
one who had been able to finish in the top 10 only once since.
The day after last month's PGA Championship, Kite announced that
Fred Couples and Lee Janzen were his captain's picks for the
Ryder Cup. Jones, who had slipped from fifth at the start of the
year to 12th on the points list, was disappointed that he hadn't
been selected. He also felt as if an anvil had been lifted from
his back. He had been pressing, which had led to one poor
showing after another. Even talking to himself didn't help. "My
goal this year was to make the Ryder Cup team," said Jones. "I
was in a good position, and I had the game to do it. I didn't
think I was putting pressure on myself, but I was. I know that
His smile needed no translation.