Chopra favourite at revamped NZ Open
BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2007 New Zealand Open | Preview | 28 Nov 2007
The Michael Hill New Zealand Open starts tomorrow bringing New Zealand’s National Open to the South Island for the first time since Corey Pavin won the event in 1985 at Russley Golf Club in Christchurch. This year has even further significance in that it is the 100th anniversary of the event, is being played in a regional centre and at a golf course that has yet to be officially opened.
The tourist playground of Queenstown in Central Otago is the focus on the New Zealand tourist industry and is marketed as the ‘Adventure Playground’ of the country. It might just be that by the end of the week there will have been much adventure on this spectacular and dynamic golfing facility.
Early feedback from the players about the Hills Golf Club is mixed. There is little doubt of the dramatic nature of the surrounding vistas with the mountains surrounding the Wakatipu Basin forming the backdrop to nearly all holes.
Sweden’s Daniel Chopra, who is the favourite to take the event, following a great second half of 2007 including a win at the Gin Sur Mer and his runner up placing in Melbourne last week. Chopra turned his season around in the middle of the year with a decision to play with less expectation. Rather than force things to happen, he decided, in consultation with his coach, Kel Llewellyn, to let things happen and the results since have been stunning. He finished third in Texas, won his first PGA Tour event and then lost the playoff to Baddeley last week.
“I have played well all year but the results weren’t coming,” he said in a press conference today. “I was trying too hard to capitalise on my good play and was becoming too aggressive with my strategies. Having Mitch Knox on the bag (David Duval’s ex-caddy) has been great as he tends to be very strategic in his approach and more conservative than me and the combination is working well. I like the golf course and just love the area but they will need to keep the firmness of the greens in check,” added Chopra.
The enigmatic Michael Campbell is a favourite also but there is a reservation about his capacity to do well after a second round of 84 at last week’s MasterCard Masters left many wondering just where he is at with his game. Typically of Michael Campbell he isn’t one of them, continuing to deny any concern and suggesting he still has a chance this week.
Forrest Gump would describe Michael’s Campbell’s game as being like a box of chocolates – you never quite know what you are going to get. Just which Michael Campbell will turn up this week remains to be seen but he has shown in the past a great capacity to turn things around quickly and for his adoring New Zealand fans they will hope that he can do the same this week.
Other players expected to do well are Peter O’Malley, who has a great affinity with New Zealand being the only player to have won the New Zealand Open (1995), New Zealand PGA (2005) and the New Zealand Amateur (1988). O’Malley played very well last Sunday at Huntingdale and it would be no surprise for him to continue that on a golf course where his accurate driving and precision iron play will be a great asset.
Also in the field is one of only three fully credentialed USPGA Tour players in 2007 in Queenstown, this week, Michael Sim. Like O’Malley, the West Australian has done well in New Zealand previously having won the New Zealand Strokeplay Championship by 11 shots in 2005 en route to earning the number one status in amateur golf.
Sim suffered back injury for the first few months of the year but when he was able to take up his PGA Tour card, earned via the 2006 Nationwide Tour, there was the occasional good finish. He has since lost his status but will get starts in five events in 2008 courtesy of a minor medical exemption in an attempt to regain his place on the game’s biggest stage.
The other from the PGA Tour Paul Sheehan (we have already mentioned Chopra) played only half the season there in 2007 before abandoning his campaign to play in Japan. He was uncomfortable in the US and as a Japan Open winner he was keen to rekindle his career there.
Perhaps the best of the European players are Richard Finch, who played very well in Melbourne last week, and Irishman Damien McGrane.
The youngest player in the field is Peter Spearman-Burn, who at the age of 18 recorded a round of 62 in qualifying for the event on Tuesday. The oldest is New Zealand’s most highly regarded golfing veteran Bob Charles who, at the age of 71, will tee it up in an event he won for the first time 53 years ago.