Lonard looks for historic third Open title

BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2005 Australian Open | Preview | 22 Nov 2005
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While this week’s Australian Open Championship at Moonah Links can hardly be compared with the Melbourne Cup there is an attempt at history being made, which will carry similar parallels in terms of its place in the history of its particular sport.

Peter Lonard will this week look to equal the marvellous achievements of the great mare Makybe Diva when he looks to win the Australian Open in three consecutive years and in doing so become the become the first person since 1948 (Ossie Pickworth) and only the second golfer in history to do so. Makybe Diva of course won her third consecutive Melbourne Cup just three weeks ago.

Lonard won here at Moonah Links on a wet and drizzly Sunday afternoon in mid December 2003 and in doing so became the first winner at Moonah Links, the course specifically built by the Australian Golf Union with this event in mind. Many bemoaned the fact that Moonah Links had been built to counter for the outrageous distances the game’s elite players were hitting the ball and at more than 7500 yards they had a point.

Prior to the 2003 event many felt the course would win out against the best that Australian golf could offer but in the end – after a week of the most benign conditions the Mornington Peninsula could possibly hope for in any given week – Lonard emerged the winner after recording a tournament total of nine under par. Many had felt that an over par score would win the tournament but at week’s end twenty four players were under par.

Lonard was complimentary about the course after his win.

“I like the course,” he said. “It is fair and a good test. I arrived here with all sorts of preconceptions but actually I enjoyed it.”

While it would be easy to put those words down as typical of what a winner would say in those circumstances, those who know Lonard well knew that he was speaking what he truly thought.

This year the scoring will again be very much dependant on the weather. With showers predicted for later in the week and the possibility of winds picking up the golf course may well offer a different proposition and a better guide on the layout’s suitability for an event of this type may be gained.

The field reads like a who’s who of Australia’s leading players. Despite the issues that have faced the Australian Golf Union in recent years, in terms of securing Australia’s best to play the event not to mention their constant battle in gaining sponsorship, the 2005 version has assembled one of the best line-ups of Australia’s current crop of talented players.

Peter Lonard arrives in Melbourne today and will have the benefit of only one practice round this year to prepare himself after a rushed trip back from Portugal where he and Mark Hensby finished 17th at the World Cup. He has not played all that well in recent weeks although as we saw last year as soon as he arrives on Australian soil he seems to grow another leg. His finished 35th in his last individual event at the recent Chrysler Championship in Florida. If he is able to settle into the event with a reasonable first round, he may well get better as the week rolls on. He will be the focus of much attention this week because of what will be a record breaking feat if he is able to win.

Adam Scott is here after a good week at the Franklin Shootout – for whatever that is worth in assessing form. He recovered from a slow start at the Tour Championship in Atlanta which is likely a better guide to his current form. He has yet to win on Australian soil but if he was to do so here then it would surprise few.

Geoff Ogilvy just keeps getting better and any player who can finish fifth at the Open Championship and sixth at the PGA must be some sort of chance here.

Mark Hensby has had yet another stunning year in both the US and Europe. He won for the first time in Europe when he took out the Scandinavian Masters but it was his stellar efforts at Augusta (5th) and Pinehurst (3rd) that have him arriving here with much anticipation from local fans. Not only are they keen to see if he can continue that form but for many they are keen to just see him. This will be his first Australian Open and only his second tournament in Australia since leaving for Chicago in the early 1990’s and the mystery that is Mark Hensby will be lifted to a large extent this week and throughout the Australian golf summer.

Stuart Appleby did well here in 2003 when he went into the final day with a share of the lead alongside eventual winner, Peter Lonard. He went on to finish in a share of 11th. His form in the last three months in the US has been very solid including a share of seventh at the Tour Championship. He looks a very good prospect this week to win his second Australian Open and follow up his runner up placing to Lonard at the Australian last year.

If conditions get tough, as they may well do, then Nick O’Hern, despite his lack of length, may well come into his own. He finished at even par here two years ago but with his much improved game, and indeed status in world golf since then, he has a good chance here. O’Hern was third, just two weeks ago behind David Howell and Tiger Woods in China. He is the type of grinding player that this course may reward if the going gets tough.

Rod Pampling led this event for much of the tournament last year before succumbing to the increasingly difficult Australian Golf Club layout on Sunday. He has played well again in 2005 on the USPGA Tour including a fine fifth at Augusta National and several good solid weeks towards the end of the year. At his very last tournament in Tampa he almost inexplicably shot a second round of 81 to miss the cut but we can forgive him that one.

Steve Bowditch was third in this event last year and since then he has gone on to much greater things in the game. He now has a USPGA Tour card. He was 7th at the Australian Open in 2000 as a 17-year-old and when he is on his game there are not many more exciting players to watch. Bowditch does not always possess a first or second gear but if he can find a way to keep his attack and defence in balance then he might just show us the benefits of his increasing experience and maturity. He is after all only twenty two but has already packed much into those years.

Robert Allenby appears completely out of sorts at present. He finished 33rd last week in Japan – a continuation of a run of less that Allenby – like form in 2005. There have been reasons for it, including his battle with a mysterious arthritic like condition, but it is hardly the type of lead in form that gives confidence in his chances here.

Craig Parry played well in October when runner up at the Japan Open. He has the game to play well in tough conditions but he has not played a lot lately. His last event was when 40th in China hardly convincing form.

Richard Green was the winner of the Australasian Order of Merit last year and started 2005 well but in recent months scheduling issues have gotten the better of him. He tried to do too much in the middle of the year and his form has fallen away to some extent. He does though possess a good record at the Australian Open including a third and fifth placing. He struggled here in 2003 but if he can find the sort of form that produced a win at Huntingdale last year then he can improve.

Stephen Leaney was runner up here in 2003 and although his season in 2005 in the US has hardly been stunning he has done well enough to retain his card. He knows his way around here and might feature.

Greg Chalmers returns form a successful season on the Nationwide Tour and with PGA Tour status. A previous winner of this event on a tough demanding Royal Adelaide layout he is the type of grinding player who might just do well if the going does get tough.

Peter O’Malley has not has a good year by his standards and may struggle with the Moonah Links length but his accuracy will take him a long way. He was a little better at the HSBC event and will have had the benefit of a tune up form his coach Alex Mercer this past week.

These leading players aside there are many who could well figure. Two years ago at this very venue Chris Downes finished one shot behind Lonard in a share of second with Stephen Leaney. There are many emerging Australian players who could well repeat such a performance.

Also here will be the brilliant Colombian Camilo Villegas who has earned his USPGA Tour card via the Nationwide Tour in 2005 and looks on the verge of big things. He finished 13th at the Australian Golf Club last year.

The return of the Open to Moonah Links is awaited with interest and will come under much scrutiny. Perhaps more than in its debut year will the relative merits or otherwise of the venue be highlighted or exposed.

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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