Few would dare suggest this is one of the Australian Open’s strongest fields.
Jack Nicklaus used to entice a tribe of American stars to join with him at The Australian in the 1970s in what was essentially Kerry Packer’s Open. Those days are long past, in no small way because there is now some meaning to US Tour events played in October and November.
The Tour has conspired to begin the 2019 season in 2018, securing the services of players looking to make a fast start to the money list. So fast that after three events the player 11th on the money list had exceeded in earnings the entire career money haul of Sam Snead. The Virginian great won 82 times for those wondering…
Even though our three best players are missing in action the scores this week at The Lakes have been high by modern day professional standards especially on a course under 6400 metres.
One reason is the first three days have been played with the wind blowing from the south. It makes the tee shot at the first the most difficult opening shot in the country and more than one made a mess of it.
With the wind blowing the other way the 14th, a short par-five across water, is an easy four but into the wind it’s a dangerously tempting hole offering up its share of bogeys. Amazingly on the first day it averaged over five.
After the third, the most difficult par four on the course, there is a run of short holes all the way to the 12th. A couple – the eighth and 11th – are par-fives but the short holes (seven and nine) aside there are a whole bunch of wedge shots.
Merion in Philadelphia is another course, a brilliant one, with a long run of short holes through the middle but the scores at U.S Opens there remain steadfastly high because the hard holes on either side of the middle are really hard and they employ long grass as a hazard lining the narrow fairways.
The fairways are generously wide at The Lakes excepting the 10th and it’s so narrow everyone hits irons off the tee. Only Wayne Grady was accurate enough to hit a driver between the out of bounds on the left and the hazard on the right but he’s been in the television studio for almost twenty years.
High rough is a curse on the ideal course because who wants to look for balls or, equally annoyingly, hack out of it with lofted wedges?
It does punish the wayward but there are more interesting ways to punish crooked drivers. The fairways on the front nine are lined with exposed, wind-blown sand and natural water on the back nine threatens the tee shots but the real defense of the course is the wind. For three days it has blown from the south and most members would suggest it’s the one showing the true mettle of the course.
As Cameron Smith pointed out after his opening 74 on Thursday the greens are soft by traditional Australian standards but they are hardly any different from the standard fare on the courses most of professional golf visits all over the world. Whilst not ideal, soft greens can make play in the wind more problematic as players who ‘see’ a low running shot all the way to a hole cut at the rear of the green find the option all but lost and instead have to fly the ball all the way back. When there is trouble long it’s an uncomfortable proposition.
Abraham Ancer clearly solved the puzzle on the third day, making nine birdies, the final one came after a terrific five wood all the way to the back of the 17th green where a bank helped turn his ball down to within a dozen feet of the cup.
He leads the Australian Amateur champion, Keita Nakajima from Japan by five shots but were he to make up the deficit and win, it would be one of the most remarkable doubles in Australian golf history. A few including Jim Ferrier, Bruce Devlin and Bob Shearer have won both, but to do it 10 months apart would really be something.