Lonard makes it three in a row at Australian PGA

BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2004 Australian PGA Championship | Wrap | 05 Dec 2004
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Today Peter Lonard proved once again what a great performer he is at home and what a great finisher of events he has become, when he won his second Australian PGA Championship although this time it was his title and his alone. Two years ago on a similar dark and drizzly late afternoon here at the Hyatt Regency Coolum, Lonard and Jarrod Moseley made a decision to share the title when it became impossible to stage a playoff due to darkness. This year nobody can dispute the fact that the title fairly and squarely belongs to Lonard.

What a final day it promised to be and what a final day it was.

The 22-year-old James Nitties, playing just his fourth event as a professional and taking a one shot lead into the final round, faced a day which, if successful, could be become a hugely important step in his fledgling career. Six weeks ago Nitties was perhaps disappointed with his and the Australian team’s efforts at the Eisenhower Trophy in Puerto Rico. Today he stood the chance to beat some of Australia’s best and a couple of high class Americans to win the Australian PGA Championship.

The experience Nitties gained when playing in the final group at last year’s MasterCard Masters alongside Robert Allenby, was evident yesterday when he handled himself under trying circumstances. He did not play all that well on day three, but found a way to retain the lead at the end of fifty four holes so he knew he was capable of dodging bullets.

There was line up of high quality players behind him however who had designs on the PGA title and this was not going to be an easy day for Nitties although he would prove that he was very nearly up to the challenge

Peter Lonard is developing a reputation, in Australia at least, for being a strong last round player. At last year’s Australian Open he came from three behind in the last round to win at Moonah Links and he did the same seven days ago at the Australian Golf Club when taking his second Australian Open. Today Lonard started three behind Nitties but it would perhaps be fair to say, with the greatest respect for James Nitties, that he started two behind those he knew would be the toughest to beat.

Lonard started slowly, at least compared to what was to come, when he opened with three pars. His first birdie came at the par five 4th when he got up and down from just short and right of the green. He was actually on the edge of a hazard and the lie was not god but he knocked it to ten feet and made it. Another came at the next, but he would then bogey the dangerous par three 6th. A birdie would follow at the short par three 7th when he holed from just off the green edge and then perhaps the birdie that would tell the story of the day. He drove it perfectly at the par five 8th but his second from some 240 metres was pushed a long way right. Fortunately he had a swing of sorts but between he and the flag was a bunker and a mound which protected the left side of the green. He pitched it under a tree then over the bunker and used the contours of the mound to let it work back onto the green and within ten feet. From there he holed for birdie. He followed that immediately with a fifteen footer at the next for birdie and then from the right hand rough at the tenth and again from fifteen feet, he made it three in a row. He made the almost compulsory birdie at the par five 12th and then came four consecutive pars before a putt from twelve feet at the 16th took him two ahead of Estes.

It was vintage Lonard. Very few mistakes and even when he made them today (the second at the 8th and the tee shot at the 10th) he made birdie. He shaved the hole at the 17th and then at the last, perhaps with the 72nd hole at the last week’s Australian Open still in his mind, he was wary from the tee. He was distracted by someone with a camera and was forced to back off what was a dangerous tee shot at the best of times. His only thought was not to bring the water left into play. "I had 280 to the right hand trap and given the conditions I didn’t think I could get there but it made it to the trap," he said later. “The lie was a hanging one and with the water left I said to Bussy that I wanted to leave myself 100 yards for my third.” He did just that, 106 to be precise, and the sand iron from there came to rest just six feet from the hole and when he made it those behind had just too much to do.

James Nitties surprised many with his sensational weekend effort to protect the lead he had held from day two. He simply did not go away and his performance will give him many memories on which to recall in his future career. After an early bogey at the third he bounced back quickly to move to sixteen under at the 8th and held that position until a bogey at the 14th after finding the water. That he was able to find yet another birdie at the 16th tells the story of James Nitties, namely that of a gutsy determined character who will make his mark in the professional arena. He already has. He eventually finished second outright following a gutsy 72nd hole par. The $102,000 that he earned for his runner up placing, will be of a great help at this early stage of his career.

Bob Estes birdied the first today and looked immediately as if he would be the greatest threat to any fairytale win by Nitties. The American bogeyed the third, but by the time he reached the 10th he was at 17 under and had a share of the lead with Lonard who was two holes ahead. He missed the green badly at the 11th and took bogey. He was then unable to get the birdie that would reduce the cushion Lonard was building. When he bogeyed the last, he slipped from a share of second to third but he can take a lot from the week after spending much time of late working on swing changes.

Nick O’Hern again showed his liking for the Hyatt Regency Coolum layout when he stormed home for fourth after a last round 67. O’Hern won his only tour sanctioned event here when he won the last professional tournament of the 20th century. He shared that place with Corey Pavin who looked a threat early in the day when he got to 15 under through four holes but who was then only able to tread water from that point. A bogey at the last cost him a share of third but he again displayed what a golfing craftsman he is.

A special mention here of the defending champion Peter Senior. Senior was in good shape to challenge for the lead going into the final round. An early birdie enhanced that claim but a disastrous quadruple bogey at the 7th saw him fall away quickly. To his great credit he came back strongly with five birdies in the next nine holes to get to 13 under again eventually finishing in a share of 6th.

For Lonard this is three wins in succession and his position inside the top fifty in World Ranking at year’s end is now, it would seem, secure. There was a chance that the improvement he had made in that ranking last week with his win in Sydney would be compromised if he had played badly here but he is now guaranteed a return to Augusta in April. The top fifty in the world ranking at year’s end are guaranteed a start at the first major of the year.

Lonard paid special tribute to his caddy Matt Tritton (Bussy). “He made some great calls out there today.” He kept me attacking when there were occasions I was unsure." Lonard and Bussy have won five of eight events together.

Lonard is building one of the greatest records in modern day Australian golf. He now owns two Australian Opens, Two Australian PGA and two MasterCard Masters titles. The task now is to take this success internationally as he has yet to record a win offshore. With the sort of confidence he is building, that goal is now more reachable than ever.

Photo – Anthony Powter

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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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