AUSTRALIAN PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
Hats off to the tournament organisers for managing to entice a decent international field for the second leg of the Australian triple crown. Following a fortnight of depressingly weak fields on the ANZ Tour, a strong home challenge is boosted by a number of PGA Tour regulars headed by Rory Sabbatini and including Americans of the calibre of Brandt Snedeker, RYAN MOORE and Jason Gore.
Aussie No 1 Adam Scott is here after attracting some criticism for missing the Masters a fortnight ago, and unsurprisingly heads the market. Still seeking his first win on home soil though, Scott could have his work cut out at Hyatt Coolum, a course where he hasn?t even made the top-25 on his last three visits.
The most obvious explanation for Scott?s poor record here is the demands of the course. His main asset is powerful driving, but a look through previous winners and course specialists suggest that its accuracy, rather than power, that is of most importance at Coolum. Nick O?Hern and PETER LONARD – both medium distance at best, both consistently strong in the greens in regulation department – have four course wins between them and fought out last year?s finish. Similarly profiled characters such as Craig Parry and Peter O?Malley also have ultra-consistent course records.
Another Aussie who fits the right profile is JOHN SENDEN. Since his maiden PGA Tour win in 2006, the reigning Australian Open champion has continued to thrive in the States. Fourth place in the USPGA was by far his best effort in Majors to date, and he made the frame in both of his last two PGA Tour events. Senden ruined his chance at Huntingdale on the first day, but still managed to finish a respectable 15th. Coolum suits him better as a pair of sixth-placed finishes in 2004 and 2005 testify. As he?s improved considerably in the meantime, I find it hard to see him out of the frame.
Lonard bagged another place in the Masters a fortnight ago, a predictable huge improvement on his US form before the end of season break. That was his 10th top-5 and 14th top-10 from 18 home events since August 2002. As I?ve written so many times in recent years, while Lonard is available each-way in the mid-teens on this Tour he simply must enter the staking plan. Particularly at Coolum, where he has made the top-5 in four of the past five years and twice won the event.
This emphasis on accuracy could also count against Sabbatini on his Australian debut, and exactly the same comments apply to Americans JB Holmes and Jason Gore. Course specialist O?Hern has struggled recently, while Richard Green has never performed well at Coolum. Stuart Appleby, back to something approaching his best at Huntingdale, looks the biggest danger but is overlooked at just 12/1 given his inconsistency.
Of the other Americans, Brandt Snedeker also represents a big threat to the home team, even if short enough at 20/1 on his course debut. Better value could lie with RYAN MOORE at double those odds. Moore is also making his course debut, but at the bigger price I?m prepared to speculate because this course looks right up his street. Rated as a future champion since his amateur days, Moore is one of the best players around never to have won a professional event, and a big contender here so long as he?s not too rusty after a month off.
New Zealand?s DAVID SMAIL has been relentlessly consistent from tee to green in recent months on the Japanese Tour without winning. He?s finished in the top-6 in five of his past seven events, a position he made on his sole previous visit to Coolum. With a greater emphasis on accuracy than usual, he must rate good value at least to bag a place.
And while NICK FLANAGAN will have to improve dramatically on his two previous efforts on this course to feature, he is such a fine prospect that I?m loathe to leave him out of calculations whilst he?s still available at over 50/1. Three Nationwide Tour wins in 2007 testify to his rapid improvement over the 12 months since he last missed the cut at Coolum. Interestingly from his 12 rounds on the PGA Tour so far, he?s ranked overall 1st in the crucial greens in regulation statistic.