For the third and final leg of the triple crown, we have the Australian Open from a venue regularly rated among the world’s best. Royal Sydney is one of numerous classic old-fashioned Aussie courses that tests every aspect of a player’s game. In fact, it wouldn’t look out of place hosting a Major, or at least a World Championship event.
In many respects, Royal Sydney is similar to the links venues used for the Open Championship. The fairways are firm and fast, placing a high premium on accurate driving to avoid penal rough and numerous deep bunkers. And even after negotiating the tee shot successfully, par is never a certainty. A well-controlled second is then required to hold undulating, slick greens. If the wind gets up here, as it invariably does, conditions can become very tough.
Predictably on such a course, any weaknesses in a player’s game tend to be exposed, and typically for these Aussie venues, the difference between the best and the rest is accentuated. Opens at Royal Sydney tend to produce obvious winners. Last time in 2006, John Senden won for this column with five of the six players making the top-5 starting at 28/1 or less.
However, the previous time back in 1999 saw one of the most memorable upsets ever seen in this part of the golfing world, when unknown teenage amateur Aaron Baddeley defeated a world-class chasing pack headed by Colin Montgomerie and Greg Norman. As I was holding sizeable bets on these two world stars, Baddeley’s final day heroics still bring back painful memories. Still, at least Badds went on to prove it was no fluke.
As far as I’m aware, there is no sensational amateur lurking in this field to take us by surprise. Rather, for the third week in a row, virtually every player besides the fifteen starting below 50/1 can be confidently written off. As I’ve proved over the last fortnight though, even if that is true, choosing between the obvious candidates is never straightforward.