Click here to listen to Steve Allan's press conference
The Holden Australian Open Championship, despite the efforts of the more lucrative events on the Australasian Tour calendar to upstage it, remains as this country's most prestigious event. It is the title that every Australian golfer wants to win at home and, for those who have won it already, to win again. It represents class in almost every aspect and, despite the debacle of events early in the week, it has not as some have suggested, lost any of its gloss. When Steve Allan holed out to win the high drama of Thursday had disappeared, or the moment at least, from the minds of most and Allan's win, shows once again, that the event produces winners of the highest quality.
That Kenny Perry was a late withdrawal from the event was never going to impact on a field of this quality. Sure, we never had the absolute elite of world golf here, but there was an evenness about this field that suggested from even before the tournament got underway, albeit briefly on Thursday, that we were in for some sort of contest. Not only did we have the leading Australians, Norman and Elkington aside, but the future of Australian golf was here and many of them now playing at a level well above that of a year ago.
Into the mix came perhaps the next best thing in US and perhaps world golf, Charles Howell. Howell had endeared himself to the Australian golfing media and public with his performances both on and off course at last year's Open at The Grand. For one so young he is one of the most engaging, unaffected golfers in the business and clearly has the future that most have been predicting. Rich Beem, the 2002 USPGA Champion, was here to add further colour and character to the event and that he did. He handles himself well in front of the media and brings humour to often colourless end of round press conferences. That he can also perform on the course goes without saying. Now a three-time winner on the USPGA Tour and a "˜major' champion he was able to adapt quickly to a golf course that most were predicting wouldn't fit his game.
And so to Thursday, the opening round you have when you are not having an opening round. The signs were there from very early on. When I arrived at the press centre at around 8:00am several players were on the course and it was clear from the early scoring that this was not going to be a typical day of golf. On most occasions when presented with benign conditions on the first morning of a tournament, several players would be taking full advantage but with only a couple of players under par in the first two hours there were already signs that this was going to be no ordinary day. As the breeze developed during mid morning the lightning fast greens were becoming increasingly difficult to hit and indeed to putt on. The around midday the group of Bob Shearer, Richard Ball and Mark Allen had reached the third green and when Ball had putted up to the hole only for it (the ball) to return breaking point had been reached and the officials were called in.
After much deliberation an initial decision to syringe the greens was made. Syringing is essentially hand watering in order that key areas of the green can be targeted for treatment. That might have saved the greens but it was never going to save those who had already suffered from the almost unplayable conditions. Further it was going to unfairly favour those who had yet to reach those greens causing the greatest concern and so the only decision that could be made, to abandon play for the day, was. The initial reaction was in support of the decision but the knives were drawn as the search for those responsible for letting the course reach this stage was mounted.
The first reaction from those at the AGU was to blame the drought conditions that had prevailed here in Victoria in recent months. That didn't wash, however, with a media a little more golf savvy than the whitewash would allow. Stuart Appleby, Rich Beem, although restrained in their comments at post round press conferences, made it clear that this was a situation that should never been allowed to happen. Some tried to pursue the line as to how Australian golf would be perceived as a result of this. I'm not sure that matters so much. Of more importance was how the problem would be solved and how the tournament could be finished.
There was much discussion and interrogation as to chain of command that led to the greens having reached that stage. The outcome of all this (and it is still not totally clear) is that it appears that although the AGU were of the understanding that the greens were being watered on Wednesday (tournament eve) and they were not. Whether that was a deliberate decision by those who were physically involved in the act of watering or an oversight may well be one of those questions that forever remains unanswered, at least publicly. Or perhaps it was a case of not being told not to water in the first place.
Once the decision had been made to call play then the next question was how the event could be restructured to accommodate the problems at hand and yet not compromise the event. The first advice was that the tournament would remain a seventy-two hole event and that thirty-six would be played on Sunday. Then a couple of hours later it was announced that it would be a fifty-four hole event. Many blamed television as the driving force behind the decision but it later became apparent that television would have accommodated the revised requirements and that there were other reasons that reduced the event to fifty-four holes.
There is certainly a fine line in the preparation of a course for an event of this calibre, in creating a balance between protecting the integrity of the course and indeed the championship and that of the players. In this case nobody or thing was protected. Around the world golf unions and associations feel the need to protect par. In most cases they get it reasonably close to the mark but there have been examples in recent years of them being over zealous. Carnoustie in 1999 comes to mind and here too they overdid it. Such was the narrow margin for error that by Friday morning after watering and a decision not to cut, the greens were perfect and the scoring reflected such.
Red figures aplenty were evident from early Friday morning and at the end of round one (day two) Charles Howell incredibly impressive young American was the leader by one from Craig Parry, Steve Allan, Rich Beem, and the Queenslander Chris Downes.
Downes has been a professional for two years and had recently missed stage one qualifying at the USPGA Tour School. He is on the improve and may well be one of those type of players who builds platforms each year and develops into a fine player. He qualified for the US Amateur in 2000 and made it through the second round of qualifying. He has had several reasonable finishes in lesser events on the Australasian Tour and now seemed ready to take another step. He is typical of the new breed of player strong and determined.
Steve Allan faces USPGA tour School in two weeks time, having finished 147th on the money list this year. Craig Parry has for long been considered one of the leading chances in the event given his doggedness, his ability on sandbelt courses and of course his very good recent form including his win at the World Golf Championship event and fourth at the Buick. Rich Beem the PGA Champion has gone quiet in recent weeks as he roams the world capitalising on his newfound fame. He is a class act however and once they had watered the greens and made the course more in keeping with those with which he is familiar; he was to become a factor.
By the time round one leader, Charles Howell, had reached the practice putting green prior to the start of his second round he found himself five behind after being one ahead when his head hit the pillow the evening before. That was because both Steve Allan and Rich Beem, who were blessed with early tee times on day two, had built on fine opening rounds with second round 64's to lead at ten under.
Their lead was challenged but never bettered throughout the next six hours as first Adam Scott made a move then Gavin Coles, Parry and Howell. At the end of day two Beem and Allan were to take a one shot lead into the final round over Parry and Howell with Coles one further back but Scott at seven under and Baddeley at six under could not be forgotten either.
Day three of the event, the final day, dawned fine but overcast and the prediction of stronger wins and storms threatened those out later in the day. Those out early however were presented with some of those best conditions of the week. Overcast skies and softish greens would see Jarrod Moseley birdie six of the first seven holes to get to five under for the event at that point. He would be later double bogey the thirteenth to falter. Then Greg Chalmers chimed in with a front nine of 30 and a birdie at the tenth had him at five under for the day and three under for the tournament at that stage. He finished with 65. Scott Laycock, coming off a good year in Japan, was next to make a run and when he finished with 64 he had moved from 40th overnight to 11th. He would know however that those behind had the opportunity to do the same and in the end he was
So the scene was set for a final round of high drama. At 12.40 the rain, which had been threatening all morning, arrived but was hardly enough to even cause a problem. If conditions were to stay, as they were when the leaders hit of then the predictions of a difficult last day were not to be.
Steve Allan made the start he would have been dreaming about all night when he birdied the first after watching his co-leader and playing partner Rich Beem three putt for bogey. Beem then birdied the second but Allan still led.
In the meantime Allenby, playing ahead, was making the move that many predicted. Starting the day at four under he birdied two, three and five, bogied six, then reeled off four consecutive birdies from the ninth until a bogey at the 13th stopped the run. Another bogey at the short but dangerous par four fifteenth effectively ended his challenge and it was now up to Allan to press home the advantage he had created.
Allan followed his opening birdie with a series of pars until the ninth, which with his length (he is one of the longest on the USPGA Tour), he would have been looking to perhaps birdie. That left him still in the lead but only by one from Beem and Parry at that stage. The Victorian's birdies on eleven and twelve were responsible for opening up a two shot lead and when Parry bogied the 13th the lead was three. Allan, in the group behind, also bogeyed the thirteenth and the difference was just two again and with the permutations of the last four holes anything was possible. It was all happening so quickly that it was hard to keep track, even with the advantage of the media centre facilities.
There were many other stories including Queenslander Adam Crawford who himself got to ten under and shared the lead through twelve holes. His challenge faded at the par four fifteenth but what a showing by the unheralded Crawford. Just a week after missing his European card at the final stage of tour school he appears to be making serious progress with his game.
Gavin Coles, further consolidating his higher standing in the game as a result securing his USPGA Tour card, did very well and while he did not finish it off he is a playing at a level we would not have thought of twelve months ago. A year on the Buy.Com Tour has developed his physical and mental game and it will be of much interest to see how he copes with the rigours of the US Tour next year.
Aaron Baddeley too has benefited from a full year on the Buy.Com Tour and his challenge, whilst too little too late, highlights the progress he has made. His last round of 65 created a chance but it was one shy of the mark.
Rich Beem did well given the events of the week and showed that he is a grinder and giver in his game. He never gave up and that he kept Allan honest to the end reflects the quality of the man and the golfer.
Parry too kept niggling away, as is his want, and his performance justifies the faith that many of those who before the event thought he would win.
In the end, however, it was the local 29 year old who played here on special invitation of the AGU. Steven Allan, who was able to hold off all challenges to win and complete his second win as a professional, the previous being in Germany four years ago. With a return to the US Tour School looming this was just the boost of confidence he needed. He heads out this week in an attempt to regain his full status on tour. If he misses out, he will still get twenty or so events next year but ideally he will be looking to get full status. If he does, then look out for a rejuvinated and more competitive Steven Allan in the future.
Allan does not possess an Australasian Tour card and as such, received an invitation to play the event from the AGU and I think they and Allan will be thankful for the gesture.
Despite the dramas of early in the week, the contest that developed on Sunday showed that Thursday was an aberration and that in the final analysis the event was a significant success.