Date: January 30, 2008

MFS Australian Open Preview

Angus Morgan at Kingston Heath, Sportal The 2008 MFS Australian Open will be won and lost on and around Kingston Heath&aposs &apospure&apos greens, according to tournament director Trevor Herden. With fine, warm weather forecast for the first three days and the prospect of a change late on Sunday, Herden believes the title will be claimed with a score in the range of seven-to-10 under. The par-73 layout, one of the jewels of Melbourne&aposs renowned sandbelt, has been set up for &aposentertaining&apos golf with typically generous fairways and greens a little more moist than usual for the elite field which includes three players in the world top-20. “When we play on these more challenging venues, and this is a very challenging venue, we need to set it up so that it&aposs accessible and receptive to good iron shots,” said Herden. “It&aposs just a little bit softer than what we would play a men&aposs tournament, and when I say softer I mean softer in firmness of greens and pace. “The emphasis is really on the second shot, precision on the second shot, and putting. “The greens are going to be pure to putt on, excellent. As long as you get on that fairway you&aposre going to have a great chance.” The classical bunkering at Kingston Heath is one of the features that prompted 2004 Australian Open champion Laura Davies to launch her new year &aposDown Under&apos, but the hazards are best admired from without, not within, according to Herden. “The miss on the wrong side is brutal, but there is, on just about every green here on this golf course, a bail out area, an area to miss,” he said “But if you miss it on the wrong side in the bunkers you&aposre going to be penalised severely.” Coming off a two-shot win in last week&aposs New South Wales Open, Davies is sure to be right in the finish again. The victory was especially sweet for the 44-year-old who managed top-10 finishes in eight of her last nine events of 2007 without managing to break through. Not surprisingly, however, Davies nominates World No.3 Karrie Webb as the player to beat. “There&aposs a lot of young players who, if they like the setup of the course, could get out there, but I don&apost think really low numbers are going to win because it is so well-bunkered and people are going to drop shots,” Davies said. “But if you finish ahead of Karrie, you&aposre probably going to win.” Webb is rested and relaxed after a six-week break and looking forward to defending the title she won so decisively last February. “I won this tournament at Royal Sydney last year and that&aposs a world-class venue and I think it would be just as special to win it at Kingston Heath,” Webb said. “It’s such a fantastic test of golf but a fair test and it s in great shape.” That assessment was echoed by Germany&aposs Bettina Hauert, the No.2 ranked player on the Ladies European Tour who, while modestly playing down her chances, was only too pleased to talk-up the course. “I heard it is one of the leading courses in Australia and, as far as I see, it is really a great, great golf course,” said Hauert following a practice round on Wednesday. “It&aposs in good nick, good greens and some bunkers that could be quite annoying, but if you stay out of them you are not really in trouble.” Fifth behind Webb in last year&aposs Australian Open, South Korean teenager Ji Yai Shin enjoyed a stellar season on her home tour which lifted her to seventh on the world rankings. On paper at least, the diminutive Shin would appear to be Webb&aposs biggest threat, and while she&aposs still coming to terms with Kingston Heath which she says is longer and tighter than the courses she&aposs accustomed to, she believes she can figure in the finish. “I can shoot a low score,” said Shin with a smile. Compatriot Birdie Kim, the 2005 US Open champion, believes a score in the order of 13-to-15 under may be required to win, “depending on the weather”. Kim, whose arrival in Melbourne from a month of practice in New Zealand was delayed until Tuesday night because of visa problems, expects the bigger hitters, including Webb and Davies to plunder the par-fives, in particular the 430-metre fifth, the 418-metre eighth hole, and the 453-metre 10th. And what of the prospect that an amateur could win the Australian Open for the first time? National squad member Alison Whitaker, believes 2008 could be the year. The 22-year-old, who is taking an impromptu break from her studies at Duke College in the United States, was raised in Melbourne&aposs sandbelt and probably knows Kingston Heath better than any of this week&aposs rivals having gone around, she estimates, about 80 times in her teenage years. “I don&apost think there&aposs any point not aiming for the stars,” Whitaker said. “I&aposm just going to go out there are have fun.” Meanwhile, the minor fuss generated by the decision to take Kingston Heath&aposs signature par-three 10th hole out of play to bring the closing holes closer to the clubhouse and to accommodate a spectators&apos village in the centre of the course, had lost all momentum by tournament-eve. “This golf course has got so many great holes, it&aposs not a big issue,” said Herden.