Panama beckons for top Australasians
BY Bruce Young | Web.com Tour | 2008 Movistar Panama Championship | Preview | 24 Jan 2008
The 2008 Nationwide Tour underway gets underway on Thursday when the first round of the Movistar Panama Open is played at the Panama Golf Club in Panama City. The event is the first of 30 on this year’s Nationwide Tour schedule and will see twelve Australasians teeing it up on Thursday, looking to kick start their seasons in 2008 in their quest to graduate to the PGA Tour in 2009.
Never before have so many players from Australasia teed it up so early in the season, preferring instead to wait until the events in Australia and New Zealand to get their golfing year underway. In 2008 however there is a follow up event in Mexico before the Nationwide Tour heads to the South Pacific.
Players have, in the past, been prepared to give up one event early in the season but in the competitive race for PGA Tour status in 2009, giving up two events is too much of a start and thus the significant Australasian representation.
The event has been played since 2004, last year’s winner, Argentine Miguel Angel Carballo, not able to go on and take advantage of his great start in 2007, recording two other top tens but finishing outside the all important top 25 at season’s end.
The Australasians provide an interesting mix of high quality players, two of whom have won on the PGA Tour previously. New Zealanders Grant Waite and Phil Tataurangi won the Kemper Open and Invensys Classic respectively during their PGA Tour careers and another six of the 12 have won Nationwide Tour events. Amongst those six winners, Gavin Coles has limited status on the PGA Tour courtesy of his position inside the top 150 on the 2007 PGA Tour money list but will play whatever events he needs to in order to have two bites at the cherry so to speak in 2008.
Andrew Bonhomme led the Von Nida Tour in 2007 and did well to reach the final stage of PGA Tour School. He will be all the better for a season on the Nationwide Tour before hopefully advancing to the PGA Tour in 2009. Bonhomme is playing some of the best golf of his career and led the Australian Open through 36 holes before a horror third round, but a most impressive bounce back in the final round suggested there was little damage to the confidence.
New Zealander, Waite, has battled away on the fringe of the PGA Tour for the last few years, taking advantage of an obscure status where the number of cuts he has made on the PGA Tour has given him a certain number of starts at the higher level. Waite played this event last year starting well but eventually finishing 29th and is capable of contending at this level. He started to play well towards the end of last season.
Tataurangi also gets the occasional PGA Tour start courtesy of his 2002 victory in Las Vegas but he will focus his attention on the Nationwide Tour in order to find his way back to the PGA Tour once again. The New Zealander appears to be well and truly over his injury and health ailments and is ready to go in 2008.
Steve Bowditch played the Nationwide Tour last year and played a few events on the PGA Tour. As a previous winner on the Nationwide Tour he has a certain level of status and looks to continue the form he displayed when he finished runner up at the Michael Hill New Zealand Open.
Greg Chalmers agonisingly missed his PGA Tour card at the Tour School late last year by just one shot and returns to the Nationwide Tour again. As a player capable of winning the Australian Open, finishing runner up at the Kemper Open and finishing 4th at the 2000 USPGA, he is well capable of returning to the PGA Tour and doing well and this offers a good chance to get things underway.
David McKenzie is a previous winner on the Nationwide Tour and like Chalmers went very close to regaining a PGA Tour card late last year although his near miss was via the Nationwide Tour money list. He jumps straight back into the fire this week looking to again challenge for the PGA Tour card he previously owned.
Scott Gardiner had his chances last year to graduate via the Nationwide Tour but narrowly missed out on PGA Tour status. Surprisingly, Gardiner decided against playing the PGA Tour School and played the New Zealand Open instead, finishing 16th and then recorded a similar finish at the Australian PGA. Gardiner now lives in the US and was married last year to an American. At his best Gardiner is a high class player well capable of graduating to the USPGA Tour if he remains focused.
Kim Felton and Brad Hughes are both previous winners on the Nationwide Tour. Both had horror seasons in 2007 but are very capable players with Hughes having won five times on the Australasian Tour in addition to his Nationwide Tour victory in 2004. The Presidents Cup team member in 1994 is a far better player than his recent years would suggest and, although now 40, he is more than capable of making it back to the PGA Tour.
Felton was a brilliant amateur and has won several lesser events in Australia in addition to his Nationwide Tour win in 2005. Like Hughes he is a much better player than his recent form would suggest and has a chance this week to put the horror of 2007 behind him.
Aron Price has threatened to take his game to a higher level for some time. He has been twice runner up on the Nationwide Tour and the highly successful US collegiate golfer from New South Wales should do better this season than what was a solid if unspectacular year in 2007. He finished 2007 off with a poor run of events but makes a new start in 2008 looking to improve on his 42nd position last year.
Jarrod Lyle finished 164th on the PGA Tour money list in 2007 and was unable to regain his card at the Tour School. With two top three finishes in Nationwide Tour events previously and that he has already been to the PGA Tour via the Nationwide Tour on one previous occasion, he has the credentials to do it again.
The tournament in Panama is worth US$600,000 with US$99,000 available to the winner.