The latest leg of The Open Qualifying Series gets under way on Thursday as the RBC Canadian Open is welcomed to the roster for the first time, with three exemption spots up for grabs.
Just six weeks remain until the 148th edition of The Open begins at Royal Portrush and the tournament in Ontario forms the latest part of the qualification series.
One of four events to join the TOQS for the first time this year, the RBC Canadian Open is part of the PGA Tour and a strong field will take to the stage at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson is among the players most fancied to pick up the trophy but with many of those vying for glory already exempt from The Open qualification, there is plenty to play for throughout the line-up.
And with several Claret Jug winners having also previously claimed the top prize at the Canadian Open – including Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara – the field will be hoping a strong stint this weekend can set them up for success in Northern Ireland.
Next step in TOQS series
TOQS was introduced in 2014 to allow players from around the world a chance to compete in golf’s oldest major and challenge for the Claret Jug.
The series is comprised of 16 events across seven tours and 11 countries, which began at the Australian Open in November.
The RBC Canadian Open is new to the series alongside fellow PGA Tour events the Arnold Palmer Invitational (March 7-10) and Rocket Mortgage Classic (June 27-30), while the Andalucia Valderrama (June 27-30) replaces the French Open on the European Tour.
Three places at The Open are up for grabs for the top three players who finish in the top 10 and ties, who aren’t already exempt.
In the event of a tie, the player with the higher ranking in the Official World Golf Rankings at the start of the tournament will qualify.
Exemption is achieved by matching any of the 28 exemption categories, including former champion golfers aged 60 or under and players currently in the top 50 in the world rankings.
Having been held since 1904, the RBC Canadian Open is the third-oldest continuously running tournament on the PGA Tour, after The Open and the U.S. Open.
The event was first held at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club in 1919 and takes place in June for the first time in 30 years.
Who to look out for
Many of golf's he will be wary of recently-crowned PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka, who is rightly one of golf’s most-feared competitors right now.
Rory McIlroy, Champion Golfer of the Year in 2014, has finished inside the top 10 in nine of his last 11 tournaments on the PGA Tour but after missing the cut at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide last week, he will be hoping for an improved performance in his inaugural start at the Canadian Open.
Among those not yet exempt, Adam Hadwin and Corey Conners are two of 12 golfers looking to become the first Canadian to win the event in over 60 years.Conners claimed the first PGA Tour win of his career at the Valero Texas Open in April but with both having been somewhat off the pace in recent weeks, a clinical performance will certainly be needed if either man is to challenge for the title.
Elsewhere, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell is still dreaming of a fairytale return to hometown Royal Portrush and will be continuing his search for exemption in Ontario.
The world 121 is desperate for a spot in the 156-man field, and having won the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship in March, he explained to BBC golf podcast The Cut that he’s focused on reproducing his best form.
He said: “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I’m there – I’m just trying to let it take care of itself.
“I grew up on the Rathmore Golf Club, which is the artisans club that rents the land it sits on from Royal Portrush. It was a special place to grow up.
“There are spots up for grabs at the Canadian Open, the U.S. Open, Irish Open and Scottish Open, and I’m entered into final qualifying at St Anne’s Old Links on the Tuesday of the Irish Open as an absolute worst-case scenario.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence the way I’m playing, and I’ve got to keep my head down and shove it to the back of my mind.”