GREG NORMAN did his shoulder, Fred Couples his back, and only half of the former John Daly seems to have arrived, but still the Australian Open battle at the spectacular New South Wales Golf Club shapes as a fascinating four days.
It seems Golf Australia couldn’t take a trick, every time they announced a new signing the “disappointment” withdrawal statement was sure to follow.
The big one was Norman, who finally seconded to the fact that the operation on his shoulder wasn’t going to heal in time. Still, the Shark will be hanging around the course and the city on various missions, including commentating for Open broadcaster Channel 10.
The latest was Couples, a former World Number 1 and 1992 US Masters champion. A lower back injury that makes it impossible for him to sit down for extended periods flared up making the long plane trip to Australia impossible, organisers reported a few days ago.
“We are disappointed that Fred will not be able to join us in Sydney and wish him a speedy recovery, ” Gollf Australia CEO Stephen Pitt said.
But Pitt was remaining upbeat about what was left.
“We have a fantastic field assembled and can’t wait to see all players take on New South Wales Golf Club in an Australian Open for the first time,” he said.
Touch wood (no name or accident pun intended), the international contingent currently ncludes the much slimmed down crowd favourite John Daly, fellow Americans Steve Marino, Kevin Stadler and Bryce Molder, and a number of players from Korea and Japan.
Apart from the name R Allenby, who made good threats to take his talent elsewhere, and did so to South Africa, most of the big Aussie names will be trashing it out.
A major point of interest will be how the new batch of Australian young guns on the US scene, particularly the likes of James Nitties, Marc Leishman and Michael Sim fare against the “old guard” of Ogilvy, Appleby, Scott, Senden, Pampling, Baddely etc.
Nitties, fresh from a strong rookie season on the US PGA Tour, will tee off from the 10th hole at 7.30am alongside the considerably slimmed down but still loud panted John Daly. Adam Scott, who everyone hopes is back on track, is the third member of this trio.
“He’s (Daly) one of those guys that is entertaining to play with and he’s one of those down to earth blokes so I’m sure it’s going to be heaps of fun out there,” Nitties said of the chance to play alongside Daly.
Leishman, who made it all the way to the prestigious Tour Championship in September where he was paired with Tiger Woods in the final round, will head out at 7.40am with seasoned performers Rod Pampling and Aaron Baddeley.
“It’s great to be put in one of those groups, you always hope to get in one of them and you hope that your play overseas during the year has something to do with that,” Leishman said.
“It’s going to be good fun playing with Badd’s and Pamps, they’re both friends and hopefully we’ll put on a good show.”
Sim, fresh from a spectacular year on the Nationwide Tour and a battlefield promotion to the US PGA Tour, has been named in the final feature group of the morning wave alongside Peter Senior and Nick O’Hern.
The afternoon action will see Peter O’Malley, Nathan Green and American Kevin Stadler tee off at midday, followed by pre-tournament favourite Geoff Ogilvy, 2008 runner-up Matthew Goggin and 2007 Australian Open Champion John Senden.
Greg Chalmers, Steve Marino and Stuart Appleby are off at 12.20pm with Craig Parry, Richard Green and Michael Campbell to follow.