O'Malley adds to great New Zealand record

BY Bruce Young | Web.com Tour | 2005 New Zealand PGA Championship | Wrap | 28 Feb 2005

Peter O’Malley has an affinity with both the Clearwater Resort layout and New Zealand generally. Of that there is little doubt and it may also be that New Zealand has a growing affinity with O’Malley.

After his victory at the ING New Zealand PGA yesterday, O’Malley has now won seven professional tournaments with three of them in New Zealand. In 1995 he won the New Zealand Open, in 2002 he won at Clearwater when the event was known as the Holden Clearwater Classic and now this win. He also won the New Zealand Amateur in 1988 making him perhaps the most successful and recognized Australian to play in New Zealand in recent times.

Even when he suggested in a televised interview on Saturday that the Australians would win the cricket that day against the New Zealanders and that Christchurch’s beloved local rugby team (the Crusaders) would be beaten that evening by the ACT Canberra Brumbies, he struggled to offend a patriotic New Zealand audience who would not normally take kindly to an Australian talking in such a manner. Such however is Peter O’Malley, an inoffensive and humble man who has developed quite a following in the land across the Tasman.

While O’Malley’s win was his first since this event three years earlier, there had been some significant signs that such a performance was close at hand. It is true that he regularly finds the middle of the fairway and many, many greens, but having walked with him in my role as on course commentator two weeks earlier at the Holden New Zealand Open, it was clear that here was a man close to the peak of his game. His tee to green play at the New Zealand Open was of such a standard that it would be difficult to imagine anyone playing better. As we have come to realize however, success in this game is not only about brilliant shot-making, it is about converting those chances when they have been created.

After all these years O’Malley has yet to conquer the putter but he has found a way of living with its waywardness. Just how he does it is hard to fathom. Most mortals would churn inside and let his amazing inconsistency on the green impregnate the other facets of the game but O’Malley seems somehow to put it all aside and still be able to bounce back.

His four putt for double bogey on the par three 16th on Saturday was followed by a three putt bogey at the last that same day and as he headed to the putting green to work once again on what stops him from being one of the great players in the game, he spoke with his Sydney coach Alex Mercer to see if he had noticed anything on the television coverage that day. What ever it was they discussed, he managed to recover from his confidence shattering finish on Saturday by opening with two early birdies on Sunday to take the lead over Jeff Gove, Johnson Wagner, Brandt Snedeker and Steve Bowditch who was bouncing back from his own late Saturday disaster by making rather ominous and rapid progress on the leaderboard.

Bowditch, who had won the previous week at the Jacobs Creek Open, had teed off some two hours ahead of O’Malley and by the time he finished his round he was at 14 under and just one back of O’Malley who had birdied the 10th and 11th to move to 15 under. Bowditch had followed his Saturday 77 with a course record equaling 63 but an incident on Saturday could well have proven costly. The Queenslander had dumped four balls in the water over the back nine on Saturday afternoon to slip from contention, or so it seemed. His aggressive approach which had led to his victory in Adelaide and set up a back to back opportunity early in the week here, had finally brought him undone. When he pulled his tee shot into the water on the 18th he had just one ball remaining. He went to some length to retrieve that ball which at the time seemed unusual, but given that he had only one other ball left in his golf bag, it was perhaps understandable as he still faced a shot over and around water for his approach. On reflection it was a funny story, but one that could have spelt disaster if he had run out of balls.

Back at the 12th however O’Malley had missed the green left from just 124 metres and faced a devilish up and down to save par which he was unable to do. He hit another bad shot at the next, a pulled three iron into the bunker, but managed to produce a brilliant bunker shot from twenty five metres to save par. He failed to get his birdie at the par five 14th after just a four iron from the fairway, but then hit a delightful second from 122 metres and a tricky lie at the 15th to set up another birdie and take back the outright lead.

The leader hit a safe and smart tee shot at the 16th and made par and at the 17th after a poor second he managed to hole from eight feet for par. Standing on the last tee O’Malley knew what he needed to do to win. The scoreboard alongside the 17th green had told him what the situation was and that a par would win. His drive found the left rough only three metres off the fairway. The lie however was marginal. It had the appearance of a flying lie and perhaps in caution O’Malley took the lesser club of two on which he was deciding and it came out softer than he had hoped. It landed just a few metres short and came to rest just off the front edge. He had to negotiate a ridge which runs through the centre of the green from front to back and appeared to have done that beautifully when it came to rest less than a metre from the hole. Surely O’Malley would make this and win the title. His putting is not good but this was too short to miss, or was it? The putt circled the cup before stopping back in front of it and a playoff became necessary.

Bowditch had not hit any shots in practice while awaiting the possibility of a playoff choosing rather to sit in the clubhouse and eventually hit a few putts when a playoff seemed on the cards. He decided to walk back to the 18th rather than accept the opportunity of a ride in order to get himself loose. In the cooling afternoon breeze he wore a jacket to help that cause. That was the closest thing to a warm up he had before heading back to the 18th hole.

The playoff hole would be the 18th over and over again and it would take four attempts before O’Malley got the job done with an eight metre putt for birdie. Both players had driven the ball beautifully under the pressure and microscope that is playoff golf. All four of O’Malley’s tee shots were within just a few metres of each other as was the case with Bowditch although he was some twenty five metres further on given his powerful hitting.

The final result left Peter O’Malley with perhaps a choice to make later in the season. As a winner on the Nationwide Tour he now has the opportunity if he so chooses to play several events on the Nationwide Tour in an endeavour to gain his USPGA Tour card. This was the case in 2002 after his victory in the inaugural staging of the event at Clearwater but he declined preferring instead to play in Europe where his children are settled in school.

For Bowditch however his future on the USPGA Tour in 2006 is now secure. He has enough money already (US$206,000) to gain one of the top twenty cards but the task now is to finish as high as he can on the Nationwide Tour money list in order to get good status in 2006. He has starts in the Johnnie Walker and BMW events in China in April but will play a schedule of events on the Nationwide Tour also.

Peter O’Malley however adds the New Zealand PGA Championship to the New Zealand Open and New Zealand Amateur titles and wins for the first time in three years. Given the manner in which he is now striking the ball it is difficult to believe it will be another three years before we see him win again.

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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