A day of two halves at Australian PGA Championship

BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2004 Australian PGA Championship | Round One | 02 Dec 2004
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Day one of the Cadbury Schweppes Australian PGA Championship began in absolutely perfect conditions for scoring and the early starters made sure they were not going to let this golden opportunity go by.

First to make his intentions known was American Bob Estes, a four time winner on the USPGA Tour and who, in finishing 15th on perhaps what was a foreign golf course for him last week at the Australian Open, served notice that he was not too far away from his best form.

“I have played only twenty three events in 2004 and so I was keen to continue playing and hence the reason I am here.”

Estes is here for just airfares and accommodation, a far cry from many of his even less credentialed American colleagues who would have demanded more.

“I probably would have come even if I didn’t get that as I was keen to play more events in 2004,” he said. “I have been working on my game really hard this year with my coach and after the PGA (US) I had taken a one month break from tournament golf so I really felt like I needed to keep playing. There are still some unresolved issues with my golf game and I felt the need to keep playing tournament golf. I really enjoy it down here.”

“This is my third time to Australia and I think it is just great to play courses like last week and again this week and to play in a city like Sydney last week and now this week in such a resort as this. I would love to play more internationally but it is so hard when you get a week off, to go elsewhere when there are so many demands on what you need to do in the US.”

Estes gave the feeling that he was genuine about his interest in international golf and it wasn’t being swayed by the fact that he was leading the tournament.

“I’m not down here to have a holiday and just play some golf. I was here to win either or both events,” he said.

Estes was out in 30 having started at the 10th and then birdied three of the last four holes to finish with a record equaling 63. It quickly became obvious however that there were others who wanted to join the scoring party.

Craig Spence, who has battled in recent years in the US and Europe, got to 5 under through 10 holes and was hard on the heels of Estes. He was out in 32 and that included a bogey at the first, but his round and, without getting too carried away, perhaps his golfing future may well have turned around with an eagle at the par five 4th, with a three quarter nine iron. That got the momentum heading in the right direction and he rolled along with it to eventually finish with 64. Spence has recently finished working with his long time coach Dale Lynch and is now working with a US based coach.

“Dale was great for me,” he said, “I need however someone who I can have more access to and the new arrangement allows me to do that. I am planning on playing the Gateway and Nationwide Tours next year if and where I can get a start.”

Spence has slipped a long way from the time he beat Greg Norman down the stretch to win the 1999 Australian Masters and when he had top five finishes on the Japan, US, European and Australian Tours that year. He was relaxed and circumspect during his press conference but also a relived man to recall what a low score feels like again.

Gavin Flint, the recently turned professional and who as an amateur created a record that is unlikely to be repeated, reached four under by the turn and the opportunity he had been given by the tournament promoters, SFX, to provide him a start here was being rewarded in kind. Flint is now managed by SFX and the current New Zealand, New South Wales and Victorian Amateur champion was showing that he is not just a match play specialist.

Unfortunately for the 23-year-old much of his good work came undone at the par four last, the 9th at the Hyatt Regency Coolum. A pulled tee shot saw him needing to lay up with his second and he did just that but he had left himself with a difficult third. He proceeded to pitch it into the bunker and when he was unable to get up and down from there, he had recorded a 67. It was a fine start but one he will be frustrated by the fact that it could have been better.

The tournament drawcard, Greg Norman, was also out of the blocks early, his class, perhaps rather than his recent good form, seeing him off to such a good start. He too was four under through 9 holes and the tournament organizers were beginning already to rub their hands in glee. Norman has shown over recent years that he has the capacity to play well early in an event but whether the form will last is the issue. The lack of continuity in his play in recent times will likely catch up on him, but either way it was an early boost for the tournament. He finished with 68.

Corey Pavin, one of the modern day craftsmen of golf, was around in 67. Four birdies, one eagle and one bogey seeing him taking full advantage of the great opportunities presented early on day one. The 1995 US Open Champion and a man who the last time he was in Queensland finished second to Stephen Leaney at the Players Championship, is one of the truly fine players in the game. Not blessed with the power game of modern golf, he has the capacity to outthink a golf course rather than overpower one.

There were also other good morning rounds from Queenslanders Andrew Buckle, Adam Crawford and Wayne Perske, West Australian Dean Alaban (67) and Craig Parry and Peter O’Malley (68). O’Malley birdied his last four holes for his four under round.

The afternoon field was always going to suffer in comparison, the gentle breezes increasing to a level where they became a factor, albeit a small one. The greens, which had been perfect early on, became just that more difficult to read and putt and the afternoon scoring cooled while the temperatures rose.

2004 Eisenhower representative, James Nitties who like his Queensland counterpart, Flint, turned professional the week of the Toyota Queensland PGA Championship was out at 11:30 and outplayed his two more experienced partners Nick O’Hern and Wade Ormsby. He finished with a five under 67, the best of the afternoon field while John Senden finished at 68.

Last week’s Australian Open Champion, Peter Lonard, returned a very respectable 69 and he and his playing partner and defending champion, Peter Senior, let everyone know that they are still a force in this event. Senior also had 69.

Today was a day very much of two halves. If justice is done and the same is the case tomorrow then we are in for one hell of a weekend.

Photo – Anthony Powter/Snapeture Sports

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

    Read all of Bruce's articles »

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