Australian PGA Championship Preview Picks & Analysis
HAROLD VARNER III returns to the Gold Coast to defend his Australian PGA Championship, and although he has had a disappointing 12 months since winning the title, he will fancy his chances of making a successful defence. It will be his third appearance in the tournament - he finished second in 2015 and beat Adam Scott at the magnificent RACV Royal Pines Resort last year.
The tournament is jointly sanctioned by the European Tour and ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia. Varner was the first overseas winner since Greg Turner in 1999 and the first American victor since Hale Irwin way back in 1978. Although he struggled on the PGA Tour for much of 2017, Varner is a hugely talented golfer. He is a small man but hits the ball a mile
“I’m really looking forward to coming back to the Gold Coast,” said Varner. “Winning in Australia for my first Professional victory was pretty special and it gave me the chance to play in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in my hometown in Akron, Ohio.
“I love playing golf and I love having fun. It’s easy at the Australian PGA Championship; the tournament has a great vibe and everyone is very friendly, cheering me on even though I had two great Aussie players, Andrew (Dodt) and Adam (Scott) just behind me on the leaderboard. The Aussie fans and volunteers were just great, it’s almost like playing in front of a home crowd again, I can’t wait to get back.”
There is a surprisingly strong field at Royal Pines, headed by Masters champion Sergio Garcia, Scott and home favourite Marc Leishman. It also provides a great opportunity for some Challenge Tour graduates to make an early impression as they begin the long battle to keep their cards, with Oliver Farr and Chase Koepka hoping to do precisely that.
Garcia will arrive in Australia straight from the Hong Kong Open, and it is safe to say that he has been enticed to the Gold Coast by a tasty appearance fee. Garcia has already won three times in 2017 and came within a whisker of winning the Dubai World Championship, finishing the week with a brilliant final round of 65 that would have been even better had he not found the water on the 18th hole.
The Spaniard has enjoyed a memorable year, the highlight of which came at Augusta, when he defeated Justin Rose in a playoff to win The Masters. He finished fourth in the Race to Dubai after choosing to sit out the Turkish Airlines Open and Nedbank Challenge. Garcia has recently gone back to a traditional putting grip after spending many months using the claw grip. Knowing sages shook their heads, predicting dreadful things for Garcia, but he has silenced his critics, putting quite beautifully in Dubai.
He is, of course, one of the best ball strikers in the game and he would not be heading to Australia unless he believed that he had a genuine chance of victory.
Scott needs a big week, and he needs it soon. He is sliding down the world rankings and has been struggling since anchored putting was banned. The Australian has one of the best golf swings you will ever see, but his travails on the greens are well known. He has enjoyed success here in the past, winning the title in 2013. It was won in 2010 by Peter Senior, in 2011 and 2014 by Greg Chalmers, in 2012 by Dan Popovic and in 2015 by Nathan Holman.
Scott said: “For me personally it would be great to try and win the Kirkwood Cup again. Any time you win it’s fantastic but if you have a little tussle with another top player as well is really good.Hopefully I will have the home crowd on my side. It’s not often anyone gets to play in front of a home crowd; since the tournaments move to the Gold Coast, and then winning The Masters, the support I have received has been amazing.”
“We’re going to be competing at the Australian PGA but I’m going to host Sergio in a way as well with an Aussie barbecue, pointing him towards the right restaurants and the places they’ll have the best time on the Gold Coast.”
Holman has endured a truly miserable time since his victory two years ago. He made just two cuts on the European Tour in 2017 and earned less than £8,000 in prize money in 21 starts. It is a salutary lesson to every young golfer who seeks to make their living playing tournament golf. Holman is 26 and has plenty of time to come again, but he faces a long, tough road back. Holman is in the field this week and will be hoping to draw on some positive memories.
All eyes will be on Marc Leishman, who has just completed the best season of his career, winning twice on the PGA Tour and climbing to 13th in the world rankings. Leishman has served a long apprenticeship but has now proved to himself something that most observers already knew, namely that he has always had the game and the temperament to compete at the very highest level.
Playing in front of home fans is sure to inspire him. “I have always enjoyed coming to the Gold Coast, it’s a fun tournament in a fun location, I am sure this year will be another excellent week,” said Leishman. “I always like coming home to play and teeing it up at the Australian PGA Championship was particularly important to me this year so I can attend the awards evening and thank the Australian golf fans for all their support this year.”
This will be the fourth time Leishman has teed it up at Royal Pines Resort with his best result being tied 11th in 2013 and 2014. We expect him to do rather better than that this time.
Marc Leishman. On the crest of a wave
Adam Scott. Needs a big week
Sergio Garcia. Looking for fourth win of 2017
Marc Leishman. Terrific ball striker
Adam Scott. Struggling with the short stick
Sergio Garcia. A year to remember
Jonas Blixt. Really capable Swedish golfer
Marcus Fraser. One of the straightest hitters in the business
Brett Rumford. Loves playing on home soil
Ryan Fox. Longest hitter on the European Tour
Thomas Detry. Hugely promising young Belgian
Oliver Farr. Looking for a big return to the European Tour
Chase Koepka. Looking to emulate brother Brooks
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