Canadian Corey Conners Will Have to Hold On on Sunday
Maybe the Canadian athletic collective has been roused by several excellent showings by their countrymen and women in the Olympics, where it was even cooler than usual to be a Canadian. Two titanic audiences are developing for this week’s Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Florida. If not for Conners, a hefty percentage of golf spectators would be glued to the TV to see if Tiger Woods can break out of a tie and win his first tournament in a very long time. That, however, is not what is happening. Corey Conners is happening. The Canadian has come out of nowhere to lead the tournament after two plus rounds. As of 2:41 PST, he leads by two, at ten under. Trailing are Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, and Brandt Snedeker. On one level, Conners is holding up brilliantly under some scary competition, and on the other, the burden on him tomorrow is likely to be titanic.
Conners, at twenty-six years of age, is just getting his feet wet on the tour, and has to date not registered any tour wins. His best effort in 2018 has been a tie for 29th, and he hasn’t won an event on any top tour level, anywhere. However, Tiger hasn’t won a thing, either, for half a decade or more. Conner is under pressure to prove that he can hold off legends like Woods, at one time infamous for late rallies on the few occasions in which he was not already leading. The pressure isn’t all on Conners, though. Tiger has proven that his game is back, each week refining itself into more of an image we used to see, but we will all wait to see if his once steely and aggressive mind has fully returned.
Conners is currently ranked at No. 133 in the Roladex ratings. I can hear the skeptics now – “Oh no, he couldn’t pull this off against the likes of Woods, not to mention Rose an Snedeker.” That view is worth a quick reminder that Tiger all but disappeared from the ratings entirely through his catastrophic past years. So, that observation is a wash, as far as I’m concerned. No one knows whether Woods is returning to glory, or if Conners is just arriving. No one plays three rounds at ten under as a fluke. He must have game, and a good one. Now, does he have four day’s worth?
He might. When the talent is present, even during its latent early professional days, that game is going to click into place sometime. When it does, confidence begins to bloom where once there was only persistence. If Conners can tune out the names of fellow competitors, and play his golf the way he has played all week, he could very well win this. Millions of people north of the United States would get a big kick out of such a result. Female stars have emerged from Canada’s golf pool with more ferocity of late than with the men. We know of Brooke Henderson and a few others, but make no mistake – the men are there somewhere, and perhaps Conners is one of them.
Should Conner hang on for the win, many south of the Canadian line will be heaving a familiar sigh, and consoling themselves with “Well, Tiger’s still getting better every week, and he’s really timing it for the Masters. It doesn’t matter.” Don’t tell Tiger that. Everything matters to him, especially winning. If he comes from behind, the roar will be heard from the south, while Canada exudes the sigh. “He’s back” will be a stop-the-presses moment, and all will be well with the American golf world, except for a decreasing number of anti-Tiger types. Of course, it is completely possible that Snedeker or Rose will win it, and some people will sigh throughout the continent. Stay tuned – it’s Conners the new versus Woods the old, and a field of well-knowns rounding it out.