After being the final event on the schedule before the Final Series from 2012-2014, the ISPS HANDA Perth International in Australia finds a new February slot on the European Tour this year.
Once more, Lake Karrinyup CC plays host so we have three solid years of recent form to tuck into and, despite the event not appearing on the 2015 calendar, it’s only 22 months since the tour last visited the course in Western Australia.
That tournament in October 2014 was won by Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen, whose only win since – the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship - may offer us a decent clue.
Good links players often thrive in Australia where the ground is hard and the ball runs fast and that should be the case again at Lake Karrinyup where strong iron play and a bit of short-game magic counts for much more than bashing it a long way off the tee.
The event is tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, Asian Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia.
The Course – Lake Karrinyup
Lake Karrinyup is a tree-lined 7,143-yard par 72 and is regularly rated as one of the top 10 courses in Australia. It staged the 2002 and 2003 Johnnie Walker Classics and was remodelled in 2007 by Mike Clayton. Retief Goosen won the first of those with -14 but Ernie Els took the course apart in 2003 when shooting -29 (won by 10 shots) so changes were needed. The scores since show it’s now a tougher test. As its name suggests, the lake is a dominant feature of the course and tee-shots at the signature 220-yard par-3 8th hole have to carry it to find the raised green.
Champions, Winning Scores and Stats
2014 -17 Thorbjorn Olesen (DD: 12, DA: 66, GIR: 8, Scr: 4, PA: 3, AA: 3)
2014 -10 Jin Jeong (DD: 67, DA: 11, GIR: 6, Scr: 24, PA: 32, AA: 20)
2013 -16 Bo Van Pelt (DD: 1, DA: 18, GIR: 6, Scr: 4, PA: 13, AA: 1)
Notes: As suggested in the intro, good iron play and short-game skills are key. That’s shown by all three winners ranking in the top eight for Greens In Regulation while two of the three were in the top four for Scrambling.
After a cool (by local standards) start to tournament week, temperatures really pick up dramatically. They’re set to peak at 96 degrees Fahrenheit on both Friday and Saturday before dropping back to the early 80s for Sunday’s final round. As well as the warm sunshine, it could get a little gusty too with Friday set to be the most challenging day (20mph or possibly higher).
The Leading Contenders
“I have played tournaments all over the world but this will be the first Tour event I have ever played in Australia,” said Oosthuizen in the pre-tournament press coverage. That leaves us with some guesswork but it’s worth noting that his fellow South Africans Gary Player (1974 Aussie Open), Retief Goosen and Ernie Els have all won tournaments down the years at Lake Karrinyup. The course should suit Oosthuizen too given how well he plays in the wind and last year’s Open runner-up should have some momentum have closing with a 66 to post T12 in Malaysia on Sunday. Add that to his T7 in Qatar and a win doesn’t look far away.
Unlike Oosthuizen, Dubuisson does have experience of golf in Australia. He was 30th in the 2013 World Cup at Royal Melbourne but, more pertinent, was runner-up in this very event the last time it was played in 2014. The Frenchman shot 71-67-70-66 to finish three shots behind Thorbjorn Olesen. The worry is that his last competitive round was a 77 on day two of the Qatar Masters although his last four starts before that produced a win (Turkey), a fourth (Nedbank) and two other top 20s. That was his second win in the Turkish Airlines Open so he does enjoy returning to places where he’s thrived before. A good omen for this week.
The Dane was landing his second European Tour victory when winning here by three shots in 2014 (64-69-67-71). It was his tournament debut, as well, although he’d lined up for his country in the 2013 World Cup. Although he missed the cut in Malaysia last week, prior to that Olesen had finished runner-up in Qatar and taken T8 in Dubai so he has plenty of confidence ahead of his latest trip down under. It’s also just over four months since he landed the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – a reminder of his class and ability to handle windy conditions which is always an asset in Perth.
Like Olesen, the switch from the Middle East to Asia rather threw Canizares off course. He’d been one of the quiet stars of the Desert Swing with a T5 in Abu Dhabi, T27 in Qatar and T8 in Dubai but at the Maybank Championship he had the weekend off after opening 72-75. A delve into his Aussie form widens the eyes as he’s shone on both visits. The Spaniard was T9 at the JBWere Masters at Kingston Heath on his debut in the country in 2009 and in his only crack at this week’s event he posted third in 2012 after opening with a 65 and closing with a 68. One for the shortlist.
As you’d expect, Aussie Rumford has played in all three editions of the Perth International while he has further course form from 2002 (T27) and 2003 (T22) when it staged the Johnnie Walker Classic. His best in this event was T6 in 2013 thanks mainly to a Saturday 65 while he posted T19 and T36 either side. After cashing in all three Desert Swing events, Rumford’s last start ended in a T7 at the Tshwane Open (67-68-66 over the final 54 holes). Adding to all that is that he originates from Perth so this is very much a home game. He certainly put local knowledge to good use when winning the Western Australian PGA Championship at Kalgoorlie in November so Rumford must rank as a genuine title contender.
After a miserable Desert Swing – “the three worst weeks of golf I’ve played in my career” – Fraser showed how quickly fortunes can change by winning last week’s Maybank Championship Malaysia. It came over five years on from his previous European Tour win and was due in large part to some wonderful scrambling (1st with 88.5%). He’s played in two of the previous three editions of this event and made the top 20 each time (T15 in 2014 and T18 in 2013) without ever getting in the mix. Modest GIR figures in Malaysia suggest a second smoke-and-mirrors win is asking an awful lot despite this being a home game.
Bourdy got a first look at Lake Karrinyup in 2014 and posted a solid enough T28. He was also T15 in the World Cup at Royal Melbourne in 2013. He rather gives the impression these days that he’s flaky in a finish but let’s remember that he is a four-time European Tour winner although, admittedly, only one of those has come in the current decade. That was the ISPS Handa Wales Open so with the same sponsors putting their name to this week’s event Bourdy may have some positive memories stirred. As for a latest temperature check, he missed the cut in Malaysia but had a decent Desert Swing (36-13-54).
While several of this week’s fancied runners missed the cut in Malaysia last week, Bjerregaard left Royal Selangor with a confidence-building top 25 after four consistent rounds. It may be too soon to think he’s back at the level that saw him reel off four top fives in eight starts between September and November last year but the Dane may be getting there. Despite his prodigious length, he often thrives on the shorter courses (runner-up on the 6,699-yard Fanling at October’s Hong Kong Open) and he showed that here in 2014 when finishing T4 (71-70-66-70). He had an 8 on his card that week and closed with a pair of bogeys so it could have been even better.
As you’d expect, the globetrotting American has already ticked off Australia; in fact, he’s played there three times already. It didn’t go so well on his recent trip at the back end of last year when he missed the cut in the Australian Open and was a modest T38 in the Aussie PGA but he did shine at this course in 2014. A third round 65 put Uihlein fourth going into the closing lap before a 73 left him T9 at the finish. For some nice symmetry, T9 was also the position he occupied in last week’s Maybank Championship Malaysia so the signs looks good again after he went 0-for-2 on the Desert Swing.
Make it four top 25s out of four for the Finn on this year’s Race to Dubai after he added to his run of 22-13-16 in the Middle East with a T12 in last week’s Maybank Championship Malaysia. That included a 64 in round three. Stats-wise, his putter looks hot and he’s scrambling well but Ilonen’s greens in regulation numbers (ranked 57th in Malaysia) look a little concerning given how important iron play is at Lake Karrinyup. He certainly didn’t get on with the course on his only visit in 2012 when shooting 77-76.
The Englishman has to be on the radar this week. After getting his eye in at Lake Karrinyup with a T43 on debut in 2013, Morrison returned to the course 12 months later and posted T4 thanks largely to a 63 in round two. Secondly, he’ll arrive on the back of a T15 in last week’s Maybank Championship Malaysia. That was a step up from his efforts in the Middle East where he played all 12 rounds in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai but didn’t better T40.
The Next Rung
When he blitzed Royal Selangor in 66-65 over the first two rounds last week in Malaysia the Englishman was clear second and had his eye on a first European Tour title. But having missed just six greens Thursday-Friday (and saved par every time) he then missed 10 at the weekend, saving himself only six times. Still, he registered T6 which added to a T7 in Qatar goes a big way to securing his card. At Lake Karrinyup he has some handy form too; 3-for 4 with three top 40 finishes and a best of T17.
The 42-year-old’s reputation is that of a PGA Tour journeyman who finds the back nine on Sunday a bit of a strain, and yet that changes Clark Kent-style when he returns home, where he has five wins. He played this event in 2012 and 2014 finishing T10 and T30. His experience will be useful in this field but of greater concern is the fact that since his last win, in the Australian PGA Championship at the end of 2014, he has a best finish of only T31 in 26 starts. They were mostly on the PGA however, and Chalmers has bucked form trends before when back down under.
The 21-year-old from the Philippines has been heralded as something of a phenom for five years now, but it took until December last year for him to cross the winning line. He finally did that under the severest of pressure when playing his home Open. Riding the wave he finished T4 in a good Singapore Open field and then was T2 last week in Malaysia, easily his finest European Tour performance. On potential and current form he has to be considered. His shared Philippino heritage with Aussie golf darling Jason Day might be a feature of the week.
Started his season in dreadful style with three missed cuts on the Desert Swing, but, like the winner Marcus Fraser, he bounced back to form in Malaysia, in his case carding 70-69-65-68 to finish the week T4. One of the most overlooked French players and yet has retained his card with some ease in the last four seasons. He played this event two years ago and whilst the T48 finish doesn’t look good on paper, he was T7 after round one thanks to an opening 67.
The 24-year-old is widely believed in his homeland Portugal to be the finest player to have gone through their system and he backed up those assertions in his time on the Challenge Tour. He collected three wins at that level and ended the 2015 season ranked number one on the tour. Since graduating he is 4-for-5 with a best of T7 in the Qatar Masters. With Perth being famously windy Gouveia might be a good fit - he knows how to work the ball in the breeze.
Just over a decade ago Ormsby had his first crack at the European Tour and struggled, eventually spending more time in Asia. But second time around he has performed with some style, making his card in both 2014 and 2015. He’s 2-for-4 this season, with two top 30 finishes in the Middle East. He should be keen for the return to Lake Karrinyup after his fast finishing effort in 2014. An opening 72 left him T77, but he followed with 68-72-66 to race through the field and post an impressive T9.
Back in 2002, the Englishman finished T5 at Lake Karrinyup in the Johnnie Walker Classic, but subsequent visits have not been so friendly: T81 in 2003, MC in 2014. The good vibes of 2002 are worth noting, however, because Wall is in a good trot since the start of 2015. 29 starts have seen him miss the cut just seven times and he’s racked up 14 top 25 finishes. Led the Joburg Open after 54 holes last month before ending the week third and T40 last week in Malaysia.
In 2012 the then rookie Englishman came to this event desperate for a good week to save his card. He opened with a 67 to be T4 but went backwards all week to T50 and returned to the Challenge Tour. In truth it was the making of him. He straightened his golf and fitness around, claimed number one spot on the feeder circuit and then retained his European Tour card last term. T4 in Qatar, where he contended with some style, his confidence is high. Lively outsider.
The veteran Aussie lefty has been an ever-present on the European Tour since 1996 - the one year he lost his card (1998) he duly nicked it back at Q School. Two years ago he went into the final round of the Perth International T5 and bang in contention only for a 72 to see him slip back into T9. Green, who skipped the Desert Swing, repeats form on courses and he also enjoyed a solid winter of Australian golf, going T6 in the Uniqlo Masters, T21 in the Australian Open and T6 at the Australian PGA Championship (the latter opened his European Tour 2016 campaign in style).
It seems slightly absurd to be considering the chances of a 56-year-old and yet this senior citizen was the winner of the Australasian Tour’s Uniqlo Australian Masters back in December, so he’s a valid contender. In fact he’s completed the Aussie Triple Crown since turning 50 (2010 PGA Championship, 2012 Australian Open), one of the least acknowledged achievements in modern golf. Played the course back in 2002 and 03, but broke 74 only once in six tries. Four-time winner on the European Tour and 23-time winner in Australia.
Who’s On The Team?
The winning record of South Africans at Lake Karrinyup bodes well for Louis Oosthuizen and his form is just about strong enough to suggest he can win on his very first start in Australia.
Brett Rumford looks the best of the local contingent and the man from Western Australia will receive that extra bit of support from the Lake Karrinyup galleries.
Andrew Johnston (hit over 80% of GIR in Qatar) could be worth a look a little bit further down the betting
One To Swerve
Yes, he won last week. Yes, he’s on home soil. But Marcus Fraser could dip again here unless his irons are a lot sharper.