Date: December 12, 2007

Battle for Open crown wide open

by Steve Orme, Sportal A stellar crop of local and overseas talent has assembled to contest the 92nd instalment of the MFS Australian Open, at the prestigious Australian Golf Club in Sydney. Defending champion John Senden is among a host of established Australian stars who have returned to home soil to fight it out for the Stonehaven Cup. But the usual suspects won&apost have it all their own way with a precocious band of emerging players from America and Asia, as well as the next generation of Australian talent all nipping at their heels. 2007 runner-up and current world No.12 Geoff Ogilvy – the highest-ranked player in the tournament – is one of two major champions in the field along with New Zealander Michael Campbell. The bookies have installed Aaron Baddeley as the pre-tournament favourite to claim his third Open title on the back of his MasterCard Masters triumph at Huntingdale last month. Baddeley, who lifted the Stonehaven Cup as an amateur in 1999 and again as a professional the very next year, is eager to cap off a career-year, which also included victory at the FBR Open on the US PGA Tour and saw him lead the US Open after three rounds. Fresh from victory at last week&aposs Cadbury Schweppes Australian PGA Championship at Coolum, Peter Lonard – himself a two-time MFS Australian Open winner – is arguably the form player in the field. Adding to Lonard&aposs appeal is the fact he was victorious in 2004 – the last time the tournament was staged at the challenging Australian layout. And with strong winds always a factor at the course, ball striking will be at a premium, which should play into the hands of the unflappable 40-year-old. Ogilvy should also not be discounted coming off a strong showing at the invitation-only Nedbank Challenge in South Africa a fortnight ago. He is desperate to add his national Open to his 2006 US Open triumph and in the process end his winless streak on home soil as a professional. 2005 triple-crown winner Robert Allenby has arrived full of confidence and ready to make amends for a disappointing final day at the Masters last month. The outspoken 36-year-old has vowed not to let outside influences distract him following his well-documented problems with a handful of fans at Huntingdale. Stuart Appleby should also not be discounted despite missing the cut at Coolum, while Rod Pampling and Nick O&aposHern, along with the unrelated Nathan and Richard Green, are among a host of accomplished home-grown stars capable of hoisting the trophy come Sunday. Recently announced Nationwide Tour Player of the Year Nick Flanagan will lead the next generation of Aussies along with big-hitting New South Welshman Won Joon Lee. Brandt Snedeker will headline an American contingent including PGA Tour players Ryan Moore, Jason Gore and Kevin Stadler. Snedeker, the 2007 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, missed the cut last week but is capable of going low on any given day and is a player to watch. Both Moore and Gore threatened to challenge last week before costly errors cruelled their chances of stealing an elusive victory on foreign soil, but the pair definitely have the game to feature heavily in Sydney. The strong recent form of accomplished New Zealander David Smail is also worthy of mention as highlighted by his runner-up finish last start on the Sunshine Coast. Heavy rain in Sydney over recent weeks has contributed to the immaculate presentation of the course, which may allow for low scoring. But with strong winds predicted, solid ball striking and a brilliant short game will be the keys to success, with the experts predicting a score of 10-under could be enough to claim the Stonehaven Cup.