Yes, you lucky lot. There are two European Tour events on the schedule this week as The Australian PGA Championship in Queensland is included on the Race to Dubai for the first time.
It’s one of three events played on the 2016 schedule before the turn of the calendar year. Charl Schwartzel kicked the new season off with a four-shot win in the Alfred Dunhill Championship last week and the South African will go for another home win in the Nedbank Golf Challenge which is previewed here.
While the Nedbank boasts a much larger purse, some interesting names have signed up to play in Australia this week and they include seven-time PGA TOUR winner Brandt Snedeker.
An American – Scott Stallings last year and Rickie Fowler in 2013 – has made the top five in the two previous editions of the event at RACV Royal Pines Resort so the long trip down under can prove good for world ranking points as well as expanding a golfer’s education.
Whoever triumphs this week will be granted exemption into the 2016 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
While the Aussie contingent will have an edge in terms of overall conditions, any course knowledge advantage will be diminished this year. The layout has received a major upgrade by Graham Marsh and 2014 winner Greg Chalmers, who won a seven-hole playoff last year, said in the build-up: “After last year’s playoff I feel like I know every inch of that 18th but from what I have heard it will be completely different this year.” The course, according to the official website, has tight fairways and undulating greens. It measures 7,364 yards (or 6,690 meters if you’re a local) and is a standard par 72 with four par 5s and four par 3s. One added bonus this year is that a million Aussie dollars are up for grabs for anyone making a hole-in-one at the 188-yard par-3 16th on Sunday.
Past events at Royal Pines
-11 Greg Chalmers (Australia) - won at 7th extra hole
-11 Adam Scott (Australia)
-11 Wade Ormsby (Australia)
-9 Michael Hendry (New Zealand)
-8 Scott Stallings (United States)
-18 Adam Scott (Australia)
-14 Rickie Fowler (United States)
-12 Jack Wilson (Australia)
-11 Cameron Percy (Australia)
-10 Michael Wright (Australia)
It’s an unsettled forecast for the first two tournament days with the threat of a t-storm on Thursday and rain on Friday. The weekend is set fair though with lots of sun and temperatures in the early 80s. The course is near the coast and it could get quite gusty on Friday.
The Top Five Contenders
Home advantage means the Aussie edges Brandt Snedeker for favoritism with the UK bookies. Senden finished T9 in this event last year while since returning to his native land following another year on the PGA Tour he’s finished runner-up in the UNIQLO Masters and T13 in last week’s Australian Open. Overall, in his last 12 starts in Australia he’s cracked the top 10 on eight occasions, finishing second twice.
The American was runner-up at the 2007 Australian Open and also T6 in the 2005 Jacob’s Creek Open at Royal Adelaide. He was due to play this evident in 2013 before, of all things, a Segway accident forced him to withdraw. Speaking ahead of this week’s event, he said: “I have always enjoyed playing golf down under, it’s a pretty spot and the fans are always so welcoming.” The courses certainly suit his game but missed cuts on his last two starts aren’t ideal.
UK and American golf fans will be familiar with Smith due to his exploits in the U.S. Open where he played some superb golf to finish T4. The 22-year-old followed that with T25 in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits so he’s got the game and temperament for the biggest events. This is very much a home game as Smith was born nearby and he took T9 in this event last year and was runner-up at the Queensland PGA Championship earlier this year. Also T18 in the Wyndham Championship, Smith finished T13 in last week’s Australian Open.
Health problems hurt Rumford at the start of the year but the Aussie has really come on strong since returning home last month. He took victory in the Western Australian PGA Championship at the start of November and, after finishes of T18 and T6 in two other Australasian Tour events, he posted T8 in last week’s Australian Open. A five-time winner on the European Tour, Rumford was T18 in this tournament 12 months ago.
The PGA TOUR star from Sweden got hot during the summer, claiming a superb win in the Memorial Tournament and following it with a third at the Quicken Loans, top sixes at the Greenbrier and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and T12 at the PGA Championship. He’s quietened since but did shoot middle rounds of 65-64 at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia at the start of November before posting T14. He’s in a different class to most of his rivals this week and would be a big factor if near his best.
The Next Rung
The South African-born Aussie has a big reputation down under and has justified it of late with a pair of third places in the USB Hong Kong Open and Western Australian Open. He’s cracked the top 20 in five of his last eight European Tour starts and wasn’t far away from making that six in nine when T27 at the Alfred Dunhill Championship last week. Talking of top 20s, he’s finished T18 and T14 in the last two editions of this event.
Cullen’s victory in last year’s Australian Beteasy Masters allowed him to mix it with the elite in three WGC events earlier this season. He struggled but either side of his T58 in the HSBC Champions the Aussie took third spot in the Fiji International and was fifth in last week’s Australian Open. That latter result earned him a spot in next year’s Open Championship. Cullen also shot a stunning 61 to lead European Tour Q-School last month before fading to T64 and missing out on a card. He’s up and down but capable of making an impact on a Royal Pines course where he’s made the top 25 in each of the last two years.
The American challenger missed the cut by a distance in last week’s Australian Open (78-73) but he’ll be more acclimatised now and, prior to that, had enjoyed a run of 6-28-22 in the European Tour’s Final Series. As a worldwide player, this isn’t his first trip to Australia either. Uihlein contested the 2014 Perth International last October and made a strong impression, shooting a third-round 65 to sit fourth with a round to play before finishing ninth.
What looked a low key week for the veteran Aussie turned into a memorable one as he sprouted wings in the final round of the Australian Open and shot a 61 to finish fourth. As well as the course record, it also booked him a spot in next year’s Open Championship. As a Queenslander he’ll be playing in his home state this week although he had to settle for T32 in this event last year.
Ormsby, another of the home contingent, made the playoff at Royal Pines last year before falling at the third extra hole and leaving Greg Chalmers and Adam Scott to go four more before the left-hander finally got over the line. Ormsby has made seven of his last eight worldwide cuts with a T10 at the KLM Open his best. He never quite got it going in last week’s Australian Open and had to settle for T30.
The big-hitting African-American secured his PGA TOUR card for 2015-16 after finishing 25th on the Web.com Tour regular season money list and has already made an impression by making the top five at the OHL Classic in Mexico three weeks ago. Hopefully he’ll be interviewed at some point as he refers to himself in the third person. “Harold sucked out there,” or, hopefully, if you’ve backed him “Harold can win this thing tomorrow.”
Another of the familiar Aussie faces on the European Tour, Fraser has actually struggled in his homeland in recent years. Since finishing runner-up in both this event and the JBWere Aussie Masters in 2011, he hasn’t bettered T15 in his last seven starts on Australian soil and he missed the cut in last week’s Aussie Open. Before that he was T34 in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
After his epic playoff win at the seventh extra hole last year, Chalmers should feel the good vibes on his return to Royal Pines although, as stated in the intro, the course has undergone major changes. To be honest, he needs a spark after a miserable run of form in the second half of the season. Since a T31 at Memorial, the southpaw hasn’t managed a top 50 in his last 14 worldwide starts.
The left-hander ended his 2015 European Tour campaign with T18 at the Portugal Masters and T37 at the Turkish Airlines Open. Since returning home he’s delivered a top six in the UNIQLO Masters and a T21 in last week’s Australian Open. Green didn’t play here last year but was T28 in this event in 2013.
Who’s On The Team
The European Tour Fantasy game hasn’t started yet so there are no points to be had in Queensland this week.
But there are plenty of odds floating about and the one I like is local man Cameron Smith at 22/1.
He’s got that extra touch of class and closed with a 66 in the final round of last week’s Australian Open so will return to his home state in good heart.
Smith made the top 10 here last year and has obviously made big strides since.
One To Swerve
Despite winning last year, the extensive course changes coupled with his sustained run of poor form suggest Greg Chalmers may find the going tough this week.