David Hearn winning the Canadian Open would've been a wonderful, feel-good story setting off a national celebration from Nova Scotia to Vancouver.
But consider what Jason Day did in winning at Glen Abbey on Sunday: The victory came a month after he collapsed on the course with vertigo symptoms in the second round of the U.S. Open, literally getting back on his feet to tie for ninth. Then last week he tied for fourth at the Open Championship, missing the playoff by a shot. At St. Andrews, Day endured grueling weather conditions, leading to a Monday finish, one that left him bitterly disappointed. Throw in a trans-Atlantic flight with a short turnaround, and it's a wonder he was able to make the cut, much less contend, much much less win.
Just to be able to get that crushing finish -- he left his birdie try on 18 on Sunday inches short -- out of your head in such a short time is the mark of a mentally tough, world-class athlete (though not in the way that Dustin Johnson gets a crushing defeat out of his head, because he doesn't really seem to care about winning the way Day does).
"Leaving the putt short, not being able to get into the playoff, it was frustrating. It was disappointing," Day told reporters after his win. "Even though I knew that I played great, I knew that I had to focus on this week."
But that is so much easier said than done, especially at the highest level of sport.
Day did not leave his birdie short on 18 on Sunday in Ontario, rolling in a 20-footer for his third straight birdie for a 68 and a four-day total of 17-under 271. Bubba Watson finished a shot back and Hearn two back. Hearn, from nearby Brampton and the 54-hole leader, was bidding to become the first Canadian to win the tournament in 61 years, and the first native Canadian to win it in more than a century.
(In 1954, England-born Canadian Pat Fletcher won the event. Carl Keffer is the lone Canadian-born champion, doing so in 1909 and 1914. Mike Weir lost in a playoff to Vijay Singh in 2004.)
Day has now won twice this year, also emerging at Torrey Pines, to give him four for his career. He's surely playing the best golf his career, with top-10s in the last two majors, and he's now up to a career-best No. 4 in the world.
"This must feel like what Tiger [Woods] did for so many times, and it feels good," the 27-year-old Australian said. "I'm going to try to do as much as I can and keep it the same and try and win."
Whoa, hold on there, mate. As good as Day has been, he hasn't even begun to sniff Tiger territory. For one, he still hasn't won a major, much less many majors.
Day has had a boat-load of near-misses in majors, none more so than last week at St. Andrews. He's had nine top-10s in majors since 2010, including the two this year. He'll head to Whistling Straits next month as one of the favorites. Back in 2010, he tied for seventh in the PGA Championship there, fading with a Sunday 74 after beginning the day tied with eventual champion Martin Kaymer.
He's not considered in the Rory McIlroy-Jordan Spieth echelon just yet, much less the rarified Tiger-in-his-prime echelon, but a win at the PGA surely would elevate him to the former group.
Which would be pretty darn good.
Watson surely gave it a gallant run, birdieing the last four holes to leave him just one stroke shy of Day. He's now second in the FedEx Cup point standings behind Spieth, overtaking Jimmy Walker. Watson has two wins, two runner-ups and a third, but has also missed the cut in the U.S. and British Opens and had lackluster showings in the Masters and Players Championship. So while he's having a great year by many standards, he's stinking up the joint in big tournaments. We'll see what happens next month at Whistling Straits, where Watson lost in a playoff to Kaymer in 2010.
This wasn't just a case of a Canadian coming out of nowhere to play well in his national championship. Hearn also lost in a playoff at the Greenbriar earlier this month, so now he has four top-10s and eight top-25s on the season, leaving him on the fringe of Tour Championship range at 38th in the point standings. At age 36, Hearn is having by far his best season, and there's no reason to think it won't continue the rest of the summer. But he's sitting out this week's Quicken Loans National.
There are golfers such as Day and Watson, playing for greatness, and Hearn, playing for relevance. And then there are golfers such as Hoge, playing simply to keep playing. The 26-year-old PGA Tour rookie closed with a 66 to shoot up the leaderboard to his best career finish, tied for fifth. Hoge moved from 164th in points to 141st, an important step to get inside the top 150 but also bringing him closer to the all-important top 125. He's got precious little time left to qualify for the playoffs, but even with his top-10 finish he's first alternate at the Quicken because it's a limited-field event.
Cink probably sealed his position inside the top 125, tying Hoge for fifth. Of course, their careers are at opposite ends, with Cink trying to remain relevant at age 42. He hasn't done a good job of it in 2014-15, with this result his first top-10. But he's now at 103rd in points, and in the field for the Quicken with a chance to pick up more valuable FedEx Cup points. Cink is most likely looking at a one-and-done for the playoffs, but that sure looks a lot better than missing them altogether.
Barnes is another golfer making a late run to try to salvage a pretty bad season. He tied for 11th at Glen Abbey, following a T3 last week at the opposite-field Barbasol, moving him to 151st in points. He's also in the Quicken, but it would take at least one more great showing for him to climb into the top 125, and there may not be enough time for Barnes, who has had his card non-stop since 2009.
Speaking of 2009, Schniederjans was in high school then. He made his pro debut at the Canadian Open, and he could be a late-season fantasy find after tying for 22nd. The thing is, he'll get only three more starts before the playoffs. He's in the Quicken on a sponsor exemption. But, who knows, picking up a golfer for three tournaments might be just enough to put you over the top, or up a few places, in your league standings. Schniederjans, 22, made the cut at the U.S. and British Opens as an amateur, tying for 12th at St. Andrews.
The PGA Tour rookie and noted grandson also tied for 22nd, moving from 145th to 135th in points with his second top-25 of the season. Saunders will get three more tries to qualify for the playoffs, as he's also in the Quicken. He's gotten better his last three events, from T44 to T32 to T22, but this week's event will be a big step up in class for Arnold Palmer's grandson.
Verplank is now eligible for the Champions Tour, and he's had five starts, though he hasn't made an immediate impact, as so many "youngsters" do. He's played more on the PGA Tour, for some reason. Verplank surely isn't going to do better with the big boys, though he closed with a 68 on Sunday to tie for 48th, just his second PGA cash all season.
Clark made his first cut since returning from an injury at the end of June, tying for 63rd at Glen Abbey, where he was the defending champion. Clark is in the Quicken field but has not yet qualified for the Bridgestone or the PGA. But he could do for you what an injured baseball player returning at this time of year does: It's like making a trade to get better without having to do so. Clark had a good enough start to the season so that he'll likely make the playoffs, currently sitting at 107th in points.
This is a stunner: McDowell probably won't make the playoffs. He missed the Glen Abbey cut by a whopping five strokes, leaving him with just one top-25 all season -- and that was way back in November when he tied for third in the WGC-HSBC Champions. McDowell is 158th in points, and will not play the Quicken. He's also plummeted in the world rankings, from 15th at the start of the year to 60th now. He's turning 36 this week, so he's far from through -- or is he?