Much anticipated Australian Open ready for tee off

BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2006 Australian Open | Preview | 15 Nov 2006

The very much new look Australian Open has found a home that might just see it become a semi permanent base for an event that has often been seen to have been lost in transit between venues.

The Royal Sydney Golf Club has already shown that it not only offers a fine test of golf but a tournament facility that is very much self-contained and with an atmosphere that will make those visiting the golf course this week, experience an intimate relationship with tournament golf.

It would be wrong to say that this is anyone’s Australian Open as obviously there are many players in the field who, by just making the cut, their golfing year would be complete. There is such a wide range of chances amongst the leading players however that anyone of twenty five players could win the title and there would be little surprise.

The obvious chances are those that have performed significant deeds in greater arenas than that they will face this week but there are many just below that level who although they may not contend for the title on Sunday could challenge at various stages.

The favourite is Adam Scott, who in 2006 has shown that he is ready to win a major win the next twelve months. If he is now up to that level then surely his first win in Australia is not beyond him. Scott’s improvement in 2006 can be to a large extent attributed to his growing maturity as a golfer but to swing changes he made in early 2006 that seemed to have manifested themselves in a far greater level of consistency than we have seen from him previously. Scott’s nemesis this week might just be the strong winds that are likely to buffet the Royal Sydney layout early in the week. He has not really proven in his resume to date that he is a great wind player but his considerable improvement in 2006 might just put that theory to bed.

Scott has a 12.05 start on day one when he will tee it up with Stuart Appleby and Kevin Stadler. Stadler was perhaps a surprise winner won the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth in February but he has shown a capacity to travel and play well and won two further events on the Nationwide Tour after his victory at the Vines in Perth. Appleby is a capable wind played having won in Hawaii on several occasions and in Florida where an ability to play the wind well can be of advantage. The Victorian’s form in recent weeks has been solid in the UDA if not earth shattering and he stands a very good chance of repeating his win in 2001.

Robert Allenby is looking to take up where he left off in Australia last season. Not only did he win the three consecutive events before Xmas in 2005 including the Australian Open at Moonah Links but he also finished third behind Stadler and O’Hern at the Vines. His form in recent weeks in the US has been reasonable and he is looking to win his second Australian Open at Royal Sydney having stumbled across the line to beat Brett Ogle in a close tussle in 1994.

Geoff Ogilvy would appear a little too underdone to win this week. He has been experiencing the joys of fatherhood in recent weeks and although the first Australian to contend at home as the US Open champion in 25 years would no doubt love to show his admirers here his impressive game, it would seem unlikely given his lack of recent play.

One who has played a lot in recent times and played well when he has is Rod Pampling who earlier this year won the Bay Hill Invitational. His last round 66 at the Tour Championship was impressive and he will be keen to erase the memories of a late demise at the Australian Open at The Australian Golf Club only a few five kilometres from here in 2004. he won an event in the US last week but little can be read into that in terms of lead in form.

Nick O’Hern and Richard Green appear to me to be good strong chances. They have both had good solid years in 2006 although O’Hern has not played a particularly busy schedule. Both are looking to add to their rather limited list of tournament victories but both put themselves in position to win so often it would not surprise to see them challenge here and possibly win.

The man who has won this event twice in the last three years, Peter Lonard, might not have had a great year in the US but he seems to lift when he arrives back home and appears to be playing well in practice. His record in Australian events in recent years is second to none and if he was to improve on that record this season it would be no great surprise.

The chances do not stop there. Nathan Green does not appear all that confident about a big showing this week but he has jumped nearly every bar raised in front of him this year and he could show up.

John Senden finished runner up at Moonah Links last year and has since gone on to become a USPGA Tour winner in 2006. That will give him a greater level of confidence and self belief than he has ever previously had when playing at home and could well manifest itself in another close thing this week.

These are but a few for whom a win is the goal this week but for others just being here is an achievement. Success comes at different levels and for many the chance to play the final 36 holes of the new look Australian Open Championship will be a story they can tell their grandkids about in years to come.

The emotion of Sunday afternoon will be there for all to see as television screens around the world carry pictures of the winner, whomever it may be. Earlier today however there was emotion of a different kind when ex-Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, Stuart Appleby and Steve Bowditch faced the media to announce the launch of an initiative of Appleby’s to donate $50,000 of his own money then $2000 for each birdie he scores this week to the dual charities – Stuart Appleby Junior Golf Programme and Beyond Blue, a program established to help combat depression especially in Australian males. Bowditch has struggled with the disease for the past two years now and has gone public this season. It was an emotion charged press conference. While there were no floodgates of tears as the panel of three discussed the impact of the disease on the Australian male it perhaps brought into perspective that although this week’s tournament is a significant event in Australian sport there are many more pressing issue to deal with.

Two years ago, at the Australian Golf Club, Steve Bowditch produced a brilliant late burst to finish third at this very event. Two years later he now faces other demons in order to conquer as he looks to reverse the form of a horrible rookie season in the US.

That he was prepared to face the music today to help the awareness of this insidious disease was a far greater performance than that at the Australian golf club and Bowditch deserves greater recognition for doing so than any plaudits he might receive for any achievement on a golf course.

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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