HAMILTON – Inspiration was easy for Charl Schwartzel to find at the RBC Canadian Open.
Not only had the South African just returned from a frustrating abdomen injury, but he was also fresh off watching his idol Ernie Els win the British Open. The former Masters champion channelled the good vibes while shooting a 5-under 65 that gave him a five-way share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday.
Els’ victory, in particular, came with a shot of positive feelings.
“Ernie’s my hero and for him to break through and win a major when no one thought he probably would again was really fantastic,” said Schwartzel.
There was a crowded leaderboard at Hamilton Golf and Country Club midway through the first round with Schwartzel, Stuart Appleby, Bo Van Pelt, Jhonattan Vegas and Troy Matteson all having opened with 65 on an overcast morning. J.J. Henry, John Huh and Josh Teater were two shots back.
David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., posted the best early score among homegrown players with a 68. He finished as the low Canadian when the tournament was last held at Hamilton in 2006 and has good feelings of his own on the classic H.S. Colt design.
“I enjoy playing this golf course a lot,” said Hearn. “It’s a beautiful golf course, and it’s fun walking up that amphitheatre finish on 18. It’s just a very fun course for me, and being so close to home I got a lot of family and friends out here this week that are supporting me.
“So it’s a good week for me.”
Schwartzel hasn’t won since slipping on the green jacket at Augusta National in 2011. After posting a couple top-10 finishes earlier this season, he felt he was playing as well as he had in his entire career but that progress was stalled by an abdominal tear.
The injury forced him out of action for a month and Schwartzel missed the cut at Royal Lytham & Ste. Annes after making his return during the British Open last week. Even still, the 27-year-old arrived in Canada with a good frame of mind.
“On Monday when I came here, things started falling into place,” said Schwartzel. “I sort of got the feelings I had before I got the injury and I started to get excited. I’m definitely starting to hit the ball good again and if I can putt the way I did today it will put a smile on my face.”
Els, Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and defending champion Sean O’Hair were among the players with an afternoon tee time. Kuchar had a hot start by making birdie on his first five holes.