SCOTTSDALE – Canadian Nick Taylor is already a hero in his home country. The 35-year-old secured his legend up north last year when he sunk a 72-foot walk-off putt to become the first Canadian to win the RBC Canadian Open on home soil in nearly 70 years. On Friday, his legend grew even larger.
After finishing runner-up to Scottie Scheffler at last year’s WM Phoenix Open, Taylor opened up this year’s tournament by shooting an 11-under bogey-free 60 for a five-shot lead, a PGA Tour record for the largest 18-hole lead in a stroke event. After Day Two play, he fell into a tie for the lead with Andrew Novak following a 1-under round.
“I made a shift a couple of years ago just seeing the lines a little better on these greens,” Taylor said. “I’ve always felt comfortable tee-to-green here, but the last couple years, I’ve been able to see the lines a little bit better. That’s been the biggest difference.”
It is the second straight year Taylor has done well in Scottsdale, and he looks extremely comfortable on the course. Taylor’s comfort might have to do with the fact that the WM Open has almost become as much of a home event as the RBC.
Canada delivers more foreign tourists to Scottsdale than any other country, according to the city’s Office of Tourism and Events. In 2022, more than 200,000 Canadians visited Scottsdale, many staying several months and earning “snowbird” status.
“It was great. There are a bunch of Canadians down here,” Taylor said. “I heard the anthem. I heard, ‘Oh, Canada.’ It was great, so it was a lot of fun. It felt like they were following me around all day, and I was definitely trying to use their energy.”
One of those Canadians who proudly claims “snowbird” status is tournament attendee Brian Copeland. This is Copeland’s second straight year at the WM Open. Last year, he took three of his buddies to celebrate his 50th birthday. One year later, he is celebrating retirement and decided to bring 11 of his best friends instead of just three.
The 12, all Canadians, decided to support Taylor by dressing up in polos adorned with Canadian maple leaves, following Taylor hole-to-hole. After Taylor sunk a long putt to save par on hole six, Copeland led his friends in a round of “Oh, Canada,” getting the surrounding crowd into it and only stopping when Taylor asked them to quiet down.
“I’ll be honest with you, that wasn’t just us excited, that was all of Canada,” Copeland said about Taylor’s long-awaited RBC victory. “It was a 70-year drought for a Canadian to win the Canadian Open, so we were following him around today, and we were yelling, ‘Way to go, champ,’ and people were like, ‘He hasn’t won yet.’ But they don’t get it. He’s our champ. He’s our Canadian champ.”
When walking around the course with Taylor as he went through his round, it was clear that he had plenty of Canadian support, not just from Copeland and his friends. When walking from hole to hole, Copeland’s group of identical friends ran into a group of fans, all wearing Tim Horton baseball jerseys.
The WM Phoenix Open has become one of the destinations for golf. One of Copeland’s friends said that the Phoenix Open was second on his bucket list behind watching The Masters at Augusta, so seeing Taylor set the course record, as well as his personal record, made this trip more than worth it.
“I’ve been telling my friends, ‘Guys, you have no idea what you’re in for,’” Copeland said. “For us to be following Taylor around, and then for him to go low like that, this is what we dream about.”
Due to the suspension of round one, Taylor only managed to finish six holes on day one. However, those six holes were a sign of what was to come. Beginning on the back nine, Taylor birdied three straight holes at 12,13 and 14 to finish the rain-shortened Thursday three-under and only two shots back of the lead despite still having 12 holes to play in round one.
Thursday was just the teaser. Teeing off after the frost had finally melted off the fairways Friday, Taylor began the day absolutely scorching, birdying five of his first six holes and jumping out to the tournament lead before finishing his final round.
Taylor’s biggest weapon was his putter, gaining seven strokes on his competition and sinking 184 feet of puts in the first round alone.
“I drove it great, ball in hand, was hitting my irons nice, and I essentially made every putt I looked at,” Taylor said. “It was a day that you don’t want to end. Luckily, I’m going to play another round here, so hopefully, I can keep that going.”
If Taylor is in the mix Sunday, and the pressure starts to mount as he looks for his first PGA tournament win since the RBC Canadian, the high-energy environment won’t phase him. It might even strengthen him.
“He’s a people’s player,” Copeland’s friend Bernie McCarthy said. “I feel like he reacts well off of the fans. Many times out there, he made eye contact with us. He was throwing us the thumbs up. He builds off that energy, and then he can just deliver it into his game.”