I’ve been particularly looking forward to this first main event of the Australasian season for several reasons, and they don’t all involve Tiger Woods. It is of course a massive boost to Australian golf that Tiger has added this event to his winter schedule, which may act as an example to other leading stars. I’ve been arguing for years that these superb Australian courses are under-utilised on the world golfing scene, and hopefully this one is here to stay on the Race to Dubai.
But there are other reasons to rejoice about the start of the Australasian season. With the exception of last winter, this period has tended to prove something of a goldmine for this column over the years. These great courses tend to produce predictable results, with the same leading candidates featuring week in, week out. If nothing else, it will be nice to see a tournament played in dry, firm conditions after a year that has been plagued by bad weather.
With a very hot weekend in store, firm, fast conditions seem certain and that should bring the best out of this course. Kingston Heath’s last top-class event was the 2000 Australian Open, when a teenage AARON BADDELEY defended his title after what boiled down to a dual with Robert Allenby. The field were well strung out behind, as is so often the case on tough courses.
Kingston Heath offers plenty of birdie opportunities to those keeping the ball in play, but those who don’t will find making par a struggle. The layout here is pretty narrow, and the bunkers are penal. Only the best controlled iron shots, played from the fairway, will be able to hold these hard and fast greens. Consequently, a world-class short game is essential, and that can only serve to exaggerate the difference between the best and the rest.
Whether this truly favours Tiger though is open to question. He certainly isn’t likely to overpower Kingston Heath, and on the evidence of last weekend, will need to vastly improve his accuracy or else numerous troubles could await. There are plenty of similarities here with the links golf of the Open Championship, especially if the wind gets up, and Tiger’s record in that major is mixed by his own high standards. He’s won it three times, but all on courses that he was able to overpower or where the penalties were out of range.
He is, of course, a class apart from the rest of this field, but then at odds of 11/8, he’ll need to be. I’m perfectly happy to take short prices about Woods when playing one of his favourite courses, in an event that we know is high on his list of priorities, but neither factor is quite so clear this week. And while there’s no questioning his superiority over the opposition; only six are in the world’s top 100 and only one in the top 50; the best Australians in this field are well capable of narrowing the gap given their significant advantage in terms of local knowledge.