Australian Open preview

Stuart Appleby

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Back in the 1970s, this event used to attract the world?s greatest players. Arguably the greatest of them all, Jack Nicklaus, won three Opens at this week?s course, The Australian, and has now been responsible for redesigning it. As always seems to be the case, whatever the venue, the Australian Open should present a tough test with serious penalties for wayward play. The last time it was held on this course three years ago, Peter Lonard handled the gruelling conditions best of only four players to finish under par.

Another strong field lines up at Sydney, including the American contingent who played Coolum last week and every leading Australian except Adam Scott. Despite the strength in depth, everything points to another predictable winner. Nine of the last ten Aussie Open winners were amongst the leading handful in the betting. This week?s market leaders Lonard and Aaron Baddeley have four Open titles between them, and have also shared this year?s two preceding triple-crown events.

Baddeley starts a worthy favourite having won the Masters at Huntingdale on his last start. Its impossible to quibble with his tournament record, as he won this twice, (once as an amateur), when he was still learning the game around the turn of the century. Three further Open top-10s and a couple of PGA Tour wins later, Baddeley has clearly made giant strides on the world stage. The only argument against him is that he struggled on his only previous course outing, and for that reason alone he is overlooked at single figures but by no means written off.

Lonard too is overlooked at 10/1 on the grounds that there must be better value elsewhere. Again though, his chance of a third national Open title is obvious, especially if he can repeat his outstanding golf from the weekend. Back to back winners are generally rare, but seeing as Lonard has won three in a row at this level before he clearly must be feared.

Both make more appeal though than Geoff Ogilvy, who may be the best of these in the States but has yet to win a single event on home soil and struggled on this course three years ago. John Senden is overlooked after a disappointing performance at Coolum, and because he could be up against it coping with the extra pressure and media commitments created by being the defending champion.

Robert Allenby, the 2005 winner, would normally feature very highly on any short-list in his home country. However, it was hard not to be disappointed with his weekend efforts last time out at Huntingdale where he held a clear lead only to slip back into 10th place.

Better each-way value could lie with STUART APPLEBY, Apples was beaten by a single shot here in 2004, another fine effort in a tournament where his record is exemplary. Winner in 2001, Apples has also made the top-3 on two other occasions besides 2004. His odds of 20/1 seem an over-reaction to last week?s missed cut, which can be ignored as he nearly won the previous event at Huntingdale.

At similar odds, fellow PGA Tour regular ROD PAMPLING is worth a punt to win his first Open. Amongst his four top-10s over the last decade, Pampling?s best chance to win this event came on this course in 2004. He traded at odds-on after holding a clear lead at halfway, only for the pressure to tell over the weekend. Back then, Pampling had a bad reputation for folding under pressure, but he?s become a much tougher customer since on the PGA Tour.

Patience, resilience and above all else hitting greens in regulation will be the order of the day here, which should play to the strengths of European-based Aussies RICHARD GREEN and BRETT RUMFORD. Both this pair have won in Europe this year, and have probably improved since their last course visit in 2004. Green bagged 5th place then, whereas Rumford was right in the thick of it at halfway before a poor weekend.

As both look to be coming into form at the right time they could reward each-way support. Green fought back well on Sunday for a share of 8th after a very poor start to his final round. Interestingly, he ranked 1st for greens in regulation over the week. And Rumford also produced his best effort to date at Coolum, just a week after finishing 2nd at the PGA Tour qualifying school.

With a further week?s acclimatisation, the American contingent could be dangerous. Pick of the bunch could be BRANDT SNEDEKER, whose odds have almost doubled from last week due to a missed cut. Arguably the best rookie on last year?s PGA Tour, Snedeker?s very best Stateside form has come on tough courses. Prior to last week?s poor effort he looked to have retained his form in a couple of Japanese events, so he looks no forlorn hope to head home for Christmas with some reward for a busy winter schedule.

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