Many chances at New Zealand PGA Championship
BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2007 NZ PGA Championship | 21 Feb 2007
The New Zealand PGA Championship will be played for the fourth year since its rebirth in 2004 and with the backing of the huge banking group, HSBC, the event has been granted a significant boost and the additional security it needed after the departure of ING as the naming rights sponsor last year.
The event again brings together, for the sixth consecutive year, the Australasian and Nationwide Tours to Clearwater Resort in Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island, a golf course designed in collaboration with New Zealand’s still favourite golfing son, Bob Charles.
The golf course has typically provided a more American friendly layout in the five previous years than has been the case the previous week in Adelaide. Admittedly, Australians have won on three of those five occasions (there were two Clearwater Classics included in that lineup) but there has generally been a stronger representation of the North Americans in the top ten than has been the case at either Kooyonga or Royal Adelaide.
The defending champion is not in Christchurch this week as the Canadian Jim Rutledge is now a member of the USPGA Tour after his last round of 64 to win twelve months ago had created the opportunity to make his way to the big time. Rutledge has struggled to date at that higher level, missing all five cuts in season 2007 but he is one of several who have taken full advantage of the win at the Clearwater event to advance their professional careers on the greatest Tour in the world.
Gavin Coles, Ryan Palmer and Rutledge are the three winners of this event or its equivalent to advance to the PGA Tour the following season but there are several others who, after a top finish, have also moved on. Andre Stolz, Brendan Jones, Steve Bowditch and Jarrod Lyle have all finished runner up over the years but have benefited so much from the good finish that they have graduated from the Nationwide Tour at year’s end.
This year’s event is missing its most prolific money winner, Peter O’Malley, whose brother-in-law, Andrew McAuley, was lost at sea when attempting to kayak between Australia and New Zealand two weeks ago.
The favourite therefore might just be Brett Rumford ,who finished runner up to Rutledge last year and did well last week in Adelaide when 5th at the Jacob’s Creek Open.
Brendan Jones finished runner up in this event in 2004 and last week in Adelaide was very much in the mix throughout, eventually finishing in a share of third. He is Japan bound in a few weeks and was elated with the manner in which he drove the ball last week as he sought to sort his game out for the year ahead.
Craig Parry is another who will play the Japan Golf Tour this season and did well last week when finish fifth in Adelaide. This is Parry’s first time to Clearwater. "If I was still on the US Tour, I wouldn’t be here, but the Japanese Tour doesn’t start until after the Masters (April). I won the Japan Open in 1997, which gave me a 10-year exemption," said Parry on Wednesday.
The leading New Zealander and the leading world ranked player (111) in the field is David Smail who is in fact the only player from the world top 150 playing in Christchurch this week. Smail had a reasonable week in Adelaide when 14th and was 10th at Clearwater last year.
Wade Ormsby was very disappointing last week on home ground in Adelaide but he was runner up at the New Zealand Open late last year and was fourth in this event last year. He seems to play well in New Zealand for some reason and if he can recover from his poor week last week he might do well.
As far as the Americans are concerned, Brad Ott and last week’s winner, Scott Sterling, stand out as players who are in form and who have played Clearwater reasonably well in the past. Ott finished runner up to Peter O’Malley in 2002 and played well last week in Adelaide while Sterling has played well on one or two occasions at this event. Sterling, of course, must contend with the back up syndrome after last week’s win but he won’t be down on confidence. He has finished 8th in this event previously.
The chances do not stop there however and are too many to mention here but whoever walks away from Clearwater as the winner in 2007 will know he has gone a significant way to playing in an even bigger arena in 2008.
Photo – Anthony Powter