TORONTO » He needed a sponsor’s exemption to get into the field, had only made one cut in his last six tournaments, and had never come close to holding or sharing a 36-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.
But Kaneohe’s Dean Wilson defied all the odds yesterday by shooting his third consecutive 65 at the RBC Canadian Open to take a four-shot lead over three players heading into today’s final round.
The Castle High grad was clinical on the classic, old-style St. George’s course — hitting 13 greens in regulation and 11 out of 13 fairways and needing only 27 putts. Most impressively, he did it while playing several holes during a torrential downpour.
"Yeah, another day in Hawaii, right?" joked the 40-year-old, who will be trying for his second win on the PGA Tour. His lone title came in 2006 at the now defunct International tournament in Colorado.
A week ago, no one — including Wilson himself — could have imagined he’d be in this situation. Since 2003, he’d been a regular on the PGA Tour, but he lost his PGA Tour card last year after finishing 152nd on the money list. As a result, he has limited playing privileges this year — getting into the odd event at the last minute as an alternate. Coming into this week, he had played in eight PGA tournaments in 2010, with his best finish a tie for 28th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico.
This week Wilson caught a lucky break, thanks to his former Brigham Young teammate Mike Weir — Canada’s most famous and beloved golfer. Through that friendship and a good relationship with tournament director Bill Paul, plus the fact that he’d played on the Canadian Tour in his early years, Wilson was offered a spot into the field through a sponsor’s exemption.
It meant that as of Monday, he knew he was going to play here, and could treat his preparation and schedule in the same way he used to.
"I’ve gotten into a couple of events on Thursday morning," he said about being an alternate. "And you wake up so early, you get there and you don’t know when you’re going to tee off, or if you’re going to tee off. So I really appreciate that (exemption)."
One benefit was the chance to spend some time at the range Tuesday and Wednesday with his coaches, Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett. They work with a number of PGA stars, so they’re on tour week to week, while Wilson has been at home in Las Vegas, unable to use their services much.
Wilson, who turned professional in 1992 and won six times in Japan earlier in his career, said Plummer and Bennett helped him with some small adjustments and instilled some much-needed confidence in him heading into Thursday.
"Everything just seems to be clicking a little better this week," he said, adding that he was also inspired by the play last week of Reno-Tahoe Open winner Matt Bettencourt and British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. He explained how both came out of nowhere to win.
"So I tried to talk myself into it, say, ‘Hey, I’ve got it. Just give me the chance, and if these guys can do it, I can do it, too.’ And just keep fighting, and that’s the great thing about golf. You know, anything can happen. No one expected Louis to win the British Open, but he just mowed over everybody and played great golf, and you never know when it’s going to happen, so you just have to keep fighting and stick to it."
Wilson described how his poor play last year can be partially attributed to a bad back and partly to a "bad attitude" where he used his back problem as an excuse to not practice as much as he should have.
But the blessing in disguise to his time away from the tour is that he’s much more appreciative of the opportunity he now has.
"That time away makes you think about what you don’t have. And sometimes when you’re playing — every guy goes through it — you’re playing tournament after tournament after tournament and things don’t go your way, (you think) I’ve got next week. You know, I don’t have next week. So I’ve got to take advantage of the rounds that I have, and I think that’s my attitude now, and I think it’s a lot better," he said, noting that he’s "getting bored out of my mind to tell you the truth" by only being able to practice at home and not play competitively.
"I’ve been anxious to get back out here and go at it. I miss the camaraderie of the guys and being in a tournament, being in the mix. I miss the fight. … It’s exciting. Yeah, I’m nervous. But if I wasn’t nervous it wouldn’t be exciting. I would just be at home sitting on a cart going around with my friends playing for two bucks."
He’ll have plenty to play for today. If he wins, he’ll have fully exempt PGA tour status for the remainder of 2010 and all of 2011 and 2012. Plus he’ll earn a spot into a slew of events, including the 2010 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and 2010 PGA Championship, as well as the Masters, Players Championship and The Memorial in 2011.
But he insists he won’t be thinking about it very much overnight.
"Hopefully I’m going to sleep again. You know what, I’m beat. This weather is killing me. I slept well last time (Friday night). Anytime I have a late tee time, it feels good (to sleep in)."
Wilson tees off at 7:45 a.m. today Hawaii time.