Rory McIlroy can relate to winning a national open (like Nick Taylor did last year at the RBC Canadian Open)

As golf cliches go, “there are horses for courses” seems to carry plenty of truth.

For example, Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times, and Tiger Woods dominated the South Course at Torrey Pines for over a decade, winning the Farmers Insurance Open seven times between 1999 and 2013. Woods also won the U.S. Open on that picturesque course above the Pacific in 2008. Davis Love won the RBC Heritage five times at HarbourTown Golf Links between 1987 and 1993.

Rory McIlroy has only played the RBC Canadian Open three times, but the 35-year-old Irishman has already made his mark on the event.

McIlroy had already won the Players Championship in 2019 before he arrived at Hamilton Golf and Country Club, and before the final round, he was tied for the lead with Matt Kuchar. Using a $2 Canadian coin (affectionately called a ‘loonie’) as his ball marker, McIlroy blitzed the course and the competition with a Sunday 61 to not only win but also shatter the previous scoring record at the event of 263 by five shots.

“I remember saying to myself, ‘Keep your foot down,'” McIlroy told Golfweek. “I birdied the first two holes and set the tone for the day, and I followed through on the commitment that I made at the start of that day to just keep your foot down and keep going. Some days it works and some days it doesn’t, and thankfully that day it did.”

There is a code among PGA Tour players that golfers should always defend their tournament wins the following year, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of the RBC Canadian Open for two years. However, McIlroy returned in 2022, and unfortunately for his competition, the Sunday result was the same as McIlroy fired a 62 to defeat Tony Finau by two shots.

“I saw Justin Rose went out, and he was going really close to shooting 59, so I knew that there were scores out there,” McIlroy said. “I was super excited because I was playing with Tony and Justin [Thomas] in that final group on Sunday, two of the best players in the world. It was a really cool deal.”

Winning puts a smile on every athlete’s face and makes memories of venues sweeter. McIlroy is no different, but looking back at that afternoon brings back memories of the win and the Canadian fans who did not have a chance to enjoy their national championship for two years.

2022 RBC Canadian Open
2022 RBC Canadian Open

Rory McIlroy celebrates with the trophy after winning the 2022 RBC Canadian Open at St. George’s Golf & Country Club in Etobicoke, Ontario. (Photo: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

“It was absolutely incredible,” McIlroy said. “COVID was hard and the regulations and the lockdowns were pretty strict in Canada, so it really felt like in ’22 that it was the first time that people were out and they were ready to go. And they made it known. Walking up 18 on Sunday, people stormed the fairway, they’re in the bunkers and they’re nearly on the green. It was such a cool scene.”

One of the coolest scenes of the PGA Tour season last year also played out on Oakdale Golf & Country Club’s 18th green when Nick Taylor dramatically holed a 72-foot eagle putt in a playoff to defeat Tommy Fleetwood to become the first Canadian to win the RBC Canadian Open since 1954 and the first Canadian-born winner since 1914.

Taylor instantly became a national hero in Canada for winning his country’s national championship, which McIlroy, who won the 2016 Irish Open, can relate to but not completely.

“It’s amazing, but before I had won the Irish Open, Shane (Lowry) had won the Irish Open, Padraig (Harrington) had won the Irish Open, so we weren’t waiting decades for an Irish winner,” McIlroy said. “In Canada, they were, so for Nick Taylor to break through and be a Canadian Open winner as a Candian, is just incredible. I can’t imagine how that felt for him, just to be the one to do it and break the course, so to say. It was an unbelievable scene.”

After holing the eagle putt, Taylor tossed his putter to the side as bedlam engulfed the green. That club toss was designed into the tournament’s logo. 

Three weeks ago, during a virtual press conference, Taylor was asked to reflect on his win.

“I can’t believe, first, that it’s been a year.” he laughed before revealing the true impact of his achievement. “I still get people coming up to me and telling me about where they were when they putt had dropped, the moment, their reaction, the people around them. I think those stories, over time, have probably been the most special ones. From strangers to family to friends to all of the above, it’s been very humbling over the past year to hear stories about how people were impacted by it. It’s been great and I wish I could be the defending champion a little longer.”

Back in February, Taylor jarred a 12-foot putt to defeat Charley Hoffman on the second playoff hole at the 2024 WM Phoenix Open, proving that he can still summon the magic touch he displayed at Hamilton Golf and Country Club last summer.

If history is a guide, to hold off McIlroy and win another RBC Canadian Open, he’ll need it.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek