Margin narrowed but O'Hern remains in charge
BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2005 MasterCard Masters | Round Three | 10 Dec 2005
Day Three Photo Gallery – MasterCard Masters 2005
Nick O’Hern has retained his lead at the MasterCard Masters at the Huntingdale Golf Club in Melbourne but the margin has been reduced by two and he now leads Robert Allenby by three and American Bubba Watson by four with tomorrow’s final round to come.
With the cool winds that prevailed earlier in the day easing off as the last groups began their third round at the MasterCard Masters, it was clear that the Huntingdale layout offered a lot of opportunity for those either prepared, or good enough, to take it.
A gentle breeze and temperatures in the mid twenties was the perfect formula for good scoring and even though the course was drying out a little after the rain earlier in the week there was enough red on the leaderboards to suggest that there was still opportunity out there.
The question on everyone’s mind, as the last group of Bubba Watson and Nick O’Hern headed out from the first tee, was whether this would be the week that Nick O’Hern would break through for his first win of significance in professional golf. He had won what could be termed a lesser event at the Hyatt Regency Coolum in the dying days of the last century but that aside there has been no wins in a career that has seen almost too many top tens to count. He is too good a player not to have won more events. In fact he arrived here as the second highest world ranked player in the field at number twenty eight, ahead of the likes of Appleby and Allenby who are of course multiple winners.
At his very first hole he missed the fairway and took bogey and maybe – just maybe – part of that question was being answered. He found a birdie from ten feet at the fourth hole and was back where he started but before long the expected challenge from Robert Allenby began to materialize.
Allenby birdied the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th holes, two of which are par fives, to reach thirteen and he had closed within one. O’Hern responded in great fashion with a fairway wood to the par five seventh to eight metres and how the putt for eagle missed is a question he is perhaps still asking himself. Still it was a rock solid birdie and he had extended his lead to two once more.
While the focus of attention was on the two nearest the top of the leaderboard, there were others positioning themselves for a last round charge tomorrow. Paul Sheehan, who had finished runner up at the Australian open just two weeks ago and had been in Japan in the week between, eagled the sixth hole then added further birdies at the 7th, 11th and 14th holes to move to eight under.
John Senden, who is in perhaps the best form of his career right now following his good finishes at the Australian Open and the Australian PGA Championship, moved slowly but surely to nine under par for the tournament as he made the turn and was sneaking into contention.
Stuart Appleby had started the tournament slowly with an afternoon tee time on Thursday but he climbed his way back into contention after an eagle at the 10th and a birdie at the 11th today to be at eight under and seven behind O’Hern. When he added yet another birdie at the 14th he was at nine under par and closing. He finished on that score and although seven shots behind the leader he is not totally out of it.
O’Hern hit a short iron from the middle of the fairway (where else) at the ninth to a front flag which came to rest two metres from the hole. If he had concerns about the demands of leading it certainly wasn’t obvious by the quality of his iron play. Unfortunately for O’Hern however he would miss that birdie attempt and as he walked to the tenth tee he was still two ahead.
Allenby found the fairway bunker at the tenth which would mean the near automatic birdie opportunity from the fairway was lost. He still had a chance from twelve feet but that would miss.
O’Hern took a three wood from the tenth tee to take the fairway traps out of play and although he left himself a long way back, he hit his second, with a fairway wood again, just short of the green. From the fringe he managed to two putt for birdie and he was ahead by three. Pars at the 11th and 12th retained the status quo for the leader.
Allenby missed a good chance from three meters at the 13th and then could not make birdie at the 14th. When O’Hern made a soft bogey at the 13th however, the difference was back to two. The difference was quickly back to three when O’Hern birdied the par five 14th. O’Hern had another chance at the 15th from six metres but he could only manage par.
John Senden and Bubba Watson began to creep closer as they neared the end of their rounds. Watson, who had struggled through his front nine in 38, suddenly found something when he holed it from just off the green at the tenth hole for eagle and then added birdies at the 13th and 14th. Senden was without a bogey all day and at eleven under he has a great chance to add yet another top finish to his second and sixth placings at the Australian Open and the Australian PGA and who knows perhaps even better them. Just four back of O’Hern, he is still very much in it. He made a fine par at the last after finding the fairway bunker from the tee then holed from five metres
As if to further confirm that there were not the chinks in his armour that many thought there might be, O’Hern hit a delightful short iron to the sixteenth hole to set up another straight forward birdie. He had moved back to where he had started the day, namely five ahead although just a few minutes later, Allenby, courtesy perhaps of a spectator who he had hit with his tee shot, managed to birdie the 17th from seven metres and reduce the difference to four.
O’Hern hit an iron from the tee at the seventeenth and pulled it right. He was forced to shape a shot around the bushes ahead and found the bunker guarding the front right of the green. Faced with a difficult bunker shot he could not save par and the difference was three.
Allenby pulled his tee shot at the last and it came to rest on the edge of the fairway bunker. He found the greenside bunker with his next but then hit a fine bunker shot to two metres and saved par.
O’Hern parred the last after a fine two putt from long range to finish at sixteen under and three ahead of Allenby but his playing partner, Bubba Watson, reminded everyone that this was not necessarily a two horse race when he holed a three metre birdie putt to move twelve under and certainly not out of it.
An interesting innovation in the televised coverage today was the idea of interviewing the players during the course of play. “I was called last night,” said Allenby, “and I agreed to do it as long as Nick and Bubba were also prepared to do it. I figure whatever it takes to help with the interest in the coverage and if this adds a new dimension then great.”
Allenby said later that he was really looking forward to tomorrow and, other than being a shot or two closer, he has done what he needed to do today in order to put himself in with the best of chances tomorrow.
“It’s on for young and old tomorrow. I just hope I can play the front nine tomorrow like I did today and if I do then I am in with a good chance. Nick played with me last week on Sunday and knows how I play under pressure. It is not going to be easy out there tomorrow as these greens continue to firm up. I am starting to feel the pinch a little as I am very tired and perhaps my poor shot to the sixteenth was an example of fatigue. I’m just going to go out there tomorrow and give it my all.”
O’Hern said later that he hit the ball better today than he had in his opening rounds but the putter had not been as good.
“The ball striking was a lot crisper. I think I had thirty two or thirty three putts so to shoot 70 and to do that means I am hitting the ball well. The greens were starting to get firm and they will be like that tomorrow also. I played well and still have my lead so that’s good. I think by tomorrow with the likely northerly wind the course is going to be even tougher. I’m going to be nervous tomorrow but that’s nothing new as I am always nervous whether it is the first or last round of a tournament.”
At stake tomorrow for O’Hern is not only the MasterCard Masters but the possibility of an Order of Merit title. If he wins he will pass current leader Adam Scott and Robert Allenby recording a massive $581,000 for the season. There are still several permutations that could have O’Hern, Allenby or, in the event of an upset, Scott remain on top.
“I’ll head over and hit a few balls tonight then head to the gym, then home and have a glass of wine, put my daughter to bed and have a quiet night with my wife.”
It might be the last night that Nick O’Hern goes to bed with the uncomfortable tag of being a non-winner. There are perhaps three or four others who might see it differently however.
Photo – Anthony Powter