World No. 6 Justin Thomas added to RBC Canadian Open lineup as field finalized

New Delhi, Nov 19 (IANS) Young golfer Shubhankar Sharma capped a dream season on the European Tour by becoming the first Indian to win the tours Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award. Sharma achieved the feat soon after finishing tied 41st at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship event in Dubai. The 22-year-old claimed a creditable 28th place on the Race to Dubai rankings thanks to his two wins and three other top-10s. His total points for the season stood at an impressive 1,431,741. Sharma, the current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader, started the season with a tied 10th at the UBS Hong Kong Open and two weeks later claimed his maiden international victory at the European Tour's Joburg Open in just his 10th start on the continental tour. He soon followed that up with his second title at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia where he carded a phenomenal final round of 62 to take the golfing world by storm. The Chandigarh-based golfer thus joined previous Rookies of the Year, Spaniard Jon Rahm and Korean Jeunghun Wang, as well as former World No.1 Luke Donald of England, as the only players in the last 20 years to win twice in their first 20 events. Sharma, thereafter, added another feather to his cap with a memorable World Golf Championships debut at the WGC -- Mexico Championship where he finished tied ninth after having led the field at the end of 54 holes. The outstanding performance in Mexico earned him a special invitation to the Masters. The very next week, he posted a tied seventh at the Indian Open on his home soil that helped him climb to a career-high 64th in the world rankings and also take the lead in the Race to Dubai. Sharma ended up playing all four Majors and all four WGC events in the year. Sharma's consistent performances in the season saw him enter the season-ending DP World Tour Championship at 26th in the rankings but he was not guaranteed the Rookie prize, with Lucas Herbert and Sam Horsfield still in with a chance to overtake him at the last event. After a forgettable final round of eight-over-80 in Dubai, Sharma slipped 32 places to tied 41st at two-under-286 but that was enough for him to seal the prize for best Rookie. Commenting on the award, Sharma said:
Shubhankar Sharma, of India, hits a drive on the second hole during the second round at the Masters golf tournament Friday, April 6, 2018, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

ANCASTER, Ont. _ World No. 6 Justin Thomas was a late addition to the RBC Canadian Open’s field as Golf Canada confirmed the final lineup on Friday.

He joins top-ranked golfer Brooks Koepka, No. 2 Dustin Johnson and No. 4 Rory McIlroy in the highly competitive event.

“It’s unbelievably exciting,” said Bryan Crawford, tournament director of the RBC Canadian Open.

“To have Brooks, Dustin and Rory, and those were names we added some time ago, and then to add Justin to that, is something that is so exciting for all the golf fans that are coming out to enjoy this tournament.”

This year’s Canadian Open will be held at Hamilton Golf and Country from June 3-9. The club is to host the Canadian Open in 2023.

Golf Canada, RBC, and the PGA Tour have made a concerted effort to improve the competitiveness of the Canadian Open in the past 18 months.

The only PGA Tour event in Canada has increased its purse and changed the date of the tournament to the first week of June.

Historically, the Canadian Open was held in September, but starting in 2007 it was played in late July, the prime golf season. Unfortunately, it was also the week after the British Open, causing many of the PGA Tour’s top players to miss the tournament as they recovered from the challenging major.

This year’s event is in early June, the week before the U.S. Open, essentially turning it into a tune-up event for some of the biggest names in golf.

There are also a total of 20 Canadians in the field, looking to end the decades-long drought for Canadians winning the national championship. Pat Fletcher was the last Canadian to accomplish the feat in 1954.

Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., and Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., had already confirmed their participation.

They’ll be joined by PGA Tour card holders Nick Taylor from Abbotsford, Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., and Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., along with Canadian Golf Hall of Famer Mike Weir, making his 28th start at the Canadian Open.

Hadwin, Conners, Hughes, Taylor and Weir have all won PGA Tour events in the past.

“Golf in Canada is headed in the right direction,” said Crawford.

“Not just that we’ve got a large contingent of Canadians participating, but that we’ve got tour winners participating. We’ve got guys that have been in the hunt week in and week out. We’ve got players that have a true shot at ending the drought and winning here on home soil.”

Other Canadians receiving exemptions include Calgary’s Ryan Yipalong with Toronto natives Richard Jung and Drew Nesbitt.

Three members of Canada’s national men’s team _ Joey Savoie of LaPrairie, Que., Chris Crisologo of Richmond, B.C., and Josh Whalen of Napanee, Ont., _ have also received exemptions.

Dual-citizen and European Tour player Austin Connelly of Claire, N.S., who was recently announced as one of Canada’s representative for the upcoming Pan-Am Games in Lima, Peru, will play his third RBC Canadian Open.

Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., a winner on the Tour in 2019, has earned a spot in the field as the highest-ranked golfer on the Tour’s season-long points list who played on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada in 2018.

Marc-Etienne Bussieres of Longchamp, Que., earned a place in this year’s RBC Canadian Open after finishing No. 1 on the PGA of Canada’s Order of Merit in 2018.

Michael Blair of Ancaster, Ont., won the Ontario Regional Qualifier to earn his spot in the field and amateur Matt Anderson of Mississauga, Ont., earned his spot by winning the Quebec Regional Qualifier.