Eclectic mix faces new Aussie Open venue
BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2010 The Australian Open | Preview | 29 Nov 2010
It was eighteen years ago when Steve Elkington won the last Australian Open played at the Lakes Golf Club in Sydney but even if Elkington was playing the event in 2010 he would hardly recognise the golf course the field will face this week.
The Lakes Golf Club has undergone major surgery in that time, most of it over the past two years and while the routing remains pretty much the same as that created by Robert von Hagge when opened in 1970, the strategies and playability of the golf course have taken on a completely new look.
As is his want, golf course designer Mike Clayton has eliminated much of the exotic vegetation and given the golf course a lot more width. His use of waste style bunkering and a reduction of the predominant pot bunkering style that went before actually defends the integrity of the golf course in a far more strategic manner.
The greens have been re-contoured with significantly more movement than there was previously. As is the case with the great classics in Australian golf such as Royal Melbourne and others, the wider the target the greater the challenge – especially from the tee. A player can stand on the tee at Royal Melbourne thinking he has the greatest of expanses to aim at but once he gets out of position even on the fairway then he realises just how important it is to be more specific from the tee. Keeping the ball in play is important but good scoring comes from creating the best angles to demanding pin positions.
The player feedback to the new layout this week will be intriguing although the reaction of a field of professional golfers is not always the best way to judge the relative merits or otherwise of a golf course.
The Australian Open is special because of the fact that it is just that – the national open championship of Australia – but to a large extent it has suffered in comparison in recent years with the strength of the PGA Championship and the re-emergence of the Australian Masters. Make no mistake however, ask any Australian this week which is the domestic title they most want and this is undoubtedly it.
Adam Scott was elated last year given that his victory at the NSW Golf Club was not only his first domestic win but that it was his national title creating cause for double celebration. Many fine Australian golfers have been unable to add this coveted title to their list of victories and are probably still frustrated as a result. He now plays without that pressure.
Scott is here to defend and following his emphatic victory in Singapore just three weeks ago and as the highest ranked Australian in the field he is expected to do well. Scott also plays in the knowledge that he posted a round of 63 at The Lakes during the 2001 Greg Norman International on admittedly now a significantly remodelled golf course but the memories of which will serve him well this week.
Australia’s second highest ranked player and two time champion, Robert Allenby, is not in the field preferring instead to defend the Nedbank Challenge title he won last year in South Africa. Who can blame him? First prize at the Nedbank Challenge is US$1.25 million compared to the A$270,000 on offer this week at the Lakes.
Geoff Ogilvy has played sparingly of late, taking a lengthy break after the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship. He did however play quite nicely on his return when 8th at the Australian Masters and although he might not be quite as tournament hardened as he would like he is good enough to be a factor. He has yet to win his national open despite going close on one or two occasions.
Stuart Appleby will be buoyed by his fast finish to win the Australian Masters three weeks ago and any player capable of doing that and winning a PGA Tour event with a final round of 59 just four months ago must be a factor. He led into the final round last year before finishing runner-up to Scott and is certainly in better form at present than he was at that time.
John Senden and Michael Sim are other Australians inside the top 100 of the world rankings who will tee it up this week with 2006 Champion Senden a potential challenger. Senden has played solidly in recent starts in the US, making his last eight cuts. If he is able to replicate that form it is good enough for him to be a serious chance this week.
Michael Sim has been a little like Senden of late, hardly spectacular but very solid. If he has found further improvement since the Australian Masters then he could do well.
There will be a lot of interest in the return to tournament golf of Nick O’Hern following recovery from knee surgery. At his best he could win this event but given his lack of tournament golf he will be a long way short of that. It is great to have O’Hern back however.
Chinese number one Liang Wen-Chong has been a two time winner on the One Asia Tour this season and finished 10th behind Scott in Singapore. Liang is the 4th highest world ranked player in this field so on that basis alone he deserves respect.
Fred Couples has been a dominant force on the Champions Tour this year but it was his stunning 6th place finish at Augusta that made so many sit up and take notice. Any player capable of contending at Augusta National must be capable of at least doing so here.
The appearance of Greg Norman will be a major boost for the tournament despite the fact that he is unlikely to contend. He has played only one event in the past twelve months, missing the cut when he did but he is Greg Norman and this is Australia so he will attract his regular horde of fans no doubt.
The tournament offers Sydney golf fans the chance to see two of the greats of the modern era in Greg Norman and Fred Couples contend in Australia for perhaps the final time but by Sunday it is likely to be the battle for the coveted Stonehaven Cup amongst Australia’s current elite that will steal the attention.