OAKVILLE, Ontario (REUTERS) - The search for a home-grown winner of the Canadian Open looked poised to stretch into a sixth decade after the local contingent failed to make an impression on the first round leaderboard on Thursday.
Only once in the last 99 years has a native son claimed the national title and that was back in 1954 when Pat Fletcher ended what was then a 50-year barren run with a victory at Vancouver's Point Grey Golf and Country Club.
Local fans were out in force offering their support on a brilliant sunny day at the Glen Abbey Golf Club but they could not inspire the Canadian contingent to anything better than a three-under-par 69 from Brad Fritsch.
That left him four strokes behind pacesetting American Brendan Steele, who took advantage of ideal early scoring conditions to return an eight-birdie 65.
"I feel like I've played well, I feel like I hit the ball great off the tee," said Fritsch, who closed his round with three straight birdies. "The stats won't say it, but I think I missed, you know, five or six fairways probably by a foot."
Eighteen Canadians teed off on Thursday but only four - Fritsch, David Hearn (70), Roger Sloan (71) and amateur Corey Conners (71) - broke par.
Graham DeLaet, the top-ranked Canadian in the field and considered the country's best hope to end the long drought, had a roller-coaster morning that included a triple-bogey seven at the 14th before he birdied his final hole for a level-par 72.
"It was pretty Jekyll and Hyde," said world number 67 DeLaet, who is also battling for a spot on the International team that will take on the United States at the Presidents Cup in October.
"I hit a couple of bad tee shots, had a couple of plugged bunkers and a three-putt from four-feet but other than that I made six birdies. I made enough birdies to shoot a good round, I just had too many poor swings in there.
"You want to play well, you don't want to get behind the eight-ball and I feel I kind of am a little bit with that even par because it was pretty scoreable out there today.
"At the same time, I didn't shoot myself out of it. It was nice to finish with a birdie to kind of make lunch taste a little better."
Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champion who is on the comeback trail after a series of injuries, battled to a one-over 73 but declared himself satisfied with his effort.
The little lefty may have lost some of his form but none of his confidence as he looked ahead to the weekend.
"I could have easily been six, seven, eight under, who knows," said Weir. "You get rolling. You have a good putting day and that's a 63. I feel like I can make a charge tomorrow morning."