By John Huggan Amidst the inevitable sea of Antipodeans and Asians here at The Lakes this week, there are as many as nine Americans. But it is safe to say that none is as happy to be in Sydney playing golf in the Southern hemisphere sunshine than Dudley Hart. The 42-year old New Yorker, twice a winner on the PGA Tour over the course of his 20-year professional career, is making his first competitive appearance in more than 18 months following back surgery in June last year. Not that his performance betrayed too many outward signs of rustiness. En route to a splendid round of 68, four under par, Hart, whose PGA Tour earnings total more than $12.5m, made five birdies to offset the lone bogey he made at the sixth hole. It was a score that left him understandably delighted and, unexpectedly, as the low-American at the end of the opening day. I can t tell you how pleased I am, was his initial reaction after signing off his round with a birdie two at the last. Even now I get twinges in my back it’s been getting a little worse every day this week so to score this low first time out is something of a surprise. Indeed, after making what he calls a premature return in March of this year, Hart set himself back to the extent that he was only able to walk on a treadmill for the next few months. As his doctor said to him at the time: If you were on my team, you wouldn t be swinging a golf club right now. Eventually, Hart talked his physician into letting him play once or twice a week, with the proviso that he didn t hit balls on the range until he got stronger. Only in the last month has he been able to practice close to seriously. The hardest thing today was keeping my concentration, he continued. My head wasn t in the game at times. But for the most part I did okay. I have some issues with my swing, but I managed myself nicely. Given my lack of preparation, I m delighted. No matter what happens the rest of this week he is also in the field for next week s Australian PGA Championship at Coolum – Hart s primary focus is on regaining his playing rights on the PGA Tour next year. As things stand, he has been given a major medical exemption that means he has 13 tournaments in which to add $345,885 to the $158,399 he won before his surgery in 2009. If he achieves that, he is free to compete as a fully exempt player for the rest of the season. My plan is to start in January on the West Coast and go from there, he explained. I ll be picking and choosing my events and won t be able to play more than two in a row, at least at first. I m looking forward to getting back into it and seeing all my buddies again. Still, all of that is for the future. For now at least, Hart is here to enjoy himself. I can t tell you how grateful I am to Golf Australia for giving me an invitation, he said. I love it down here too. The people have made me feel so welcome. If I ever get kicked out of the United States I could move here in a heartbeat. And, you never know, if he continues to play as he did over the first 18 holes, he might just be back next year as Australian Open champion. Hey, stranger things have happened in golf.