Date: March 14, 2013
Author: Martin Blake / Golf Australia

Preview: Big Aussie contingent at Tampa Bay

Australian wins on the United States PGA Tour have dried up a little in recent years, despite the big numbers of ambitious antipodeans who make their annual pilgrimage to the place where a strong majority of professionals aspire to play. With hindsight, the 2006 season in America will go down as the watershed. In that season eight tournaments fell to Australians, and Geoff Ogilvy (who won twice) ended the drought in the majors by winning the US Open at Winged Foot. Stuart Appleby also won twice, Rod Pampling won, and so did his mate and fellow-Queenslander John Senden, and Aaron Baddeley. The whole Aussie roast ended with Adam Scott&aposs triumph in the Tour Championship in Atlanta, one of the biggest wins of Scott&aposs career. As recently as 2010 Australian won four tournaments in America but the pickings have thinned, with Marc Leishman&aposs career moment, his win at the Travellers Championship in Connecticut in June last year, being the only victory in 2012. Similarly, the opening stanzas of the 2013 season have featured strong Australian performances, such as Geoff Ogilvy&aposs second in the Honda Classic and Jason Day&aposs run at the World Golf Championships matchplay event, yet there have been no wins. But stand by for the assault to ramp up. Fourteen Australians are teeing it up at the $US 5.5 million Tampa Bay Championship at the Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort in Florida this week, almost 10 percent of the field. With the storied Masters tournament at Augusta National looming, the likes of world No. 7 Scott and Jason Day are grooming their games and Geoff Ogilvy&aposs No. 49 world ranking means he is clinging to a spot in the field at Augusta by the proverbial thread. The cut-off for the Masters is done the week before Augusta and the line is drawn at 50; Ogilvy is probably one good finish away from being safe in the tournament that no Australian has ever won. Others, like tour rookies Scott Gardiner and Alistair Presnell, are looking for strong finishes to give them a chance of holding their cards for 2014. Their first priority will be a made cut and a job for the weekend. Still others, like veteran Robert Allenby, are on a constant search for the elusive key to their games. Allenby, 41, a 15-year veteran of the tour, has had his worst-ever start to a year with five missed cuts and a withdrawal in six starts. He is still yet to earn his first dollar in two months of slogging, and his world ranking has plummeted to No. 249. Allenby was a world top 10 player at his best, and with $US26.4 million in earnings on the tour he is 22nd on the overall list, proof of his durability. He is no quitter but he knows that he needs to find something quickly lest he is forced into using career-earnings exemptions to keep playing. The top 125 money earners will automatically take exemptions into 2014, with the players ranked 126th to 200th going into a three-tournament swing with the top 75 players on the Tour at the end of this year for a total of 50 cards. Of course Adam Scott will not have such worries; the 32-year-old Queenslander is looming as a threat as Augusta again and will start as one of the strong favourites in Tampa Bay this week. Scott&aposs final-round 64 at the World Golf Championship-Cadillac Championship at Doral last week vaulted him to third behind the resurgent Tiger Woods. It was also the low round of the week and afterward he described the venue at Tampa as “a course I think I can do well at&apos&apos. His schedule is quite interesting and it is not by mere chance. Scott has only played three tournaments this year so far, a pittance compared to most players, but it is part of a plan. In 2012 in consultation with his coach Brad Malone, he trialled a schedule that kept him fresh for the majors and the US tour playoffs through the middle of the calendar year, emphasising the importance of the big events. It amounted to not playing much early in the year and — doubtless — plenty of surfing. It also worked nicely when he ventured on to the course. In fact he had an outstanding year that was blighted only by the calamity of his last four holes at the British Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes in July, a fade-out that allowed Ernie Els to win the old claret jug. Had he not felt the pressure of trying to win his first major his season — and that is a big maybe, admittedly — his season would have been talked about with awe. As it was, he held off the renowned streetfighter Ian Poulter in December to win the Talisker Australian Masters at Kingston Heath to put an exclamation mark on the year. Scott is back in the world&aposs top 10 where he should be, and he is fresh. With no Tiger Woods nor Rory McIlroy in the field in Florida this week, he is the second-highest ranked player in the field behind world No. 3 Luke Donald of England. His time might well be coming. The Australians at Tampa Bay: Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, Greg Chalmers, Cameron Percy, John Senden, Alistair Presnell, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Steven Bowditch, Aaron Baddeley, Geoff Ogilvy, Matt Jones, Marc Leishman, Scott Gardiner.