Shark Wins Fifth Australian Open
In the end, it was a walk in the park as Greg Norman took out his fifth Australian Open Championship at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney this afternoon.
After three days of brutal weather — and the coldest November day on record for Friday’s second round — the clouds cleared and Norman won by the impressive margin of eight shots over compatriot Wayne Grady.
The World No. 1 shot a closing 69 to finish at 8-under-par, Grady matched this score for his par total of 288 and New Zealander David Smail, 26, nearly doubled his career earnings from four years on the Tour when he took out third spot and $67,500 at 2-over-par.
American Tiger Woods, who was unable to recover from his opening 79, finished in a four-way tie for fifth at 4-over 292.
From the time he set out from the first tee, with a four-stroke lead over Sweden’s Klas Eriksson, there was no suggestion that Norman would surrender his lead, the way he had at this year’s U.S. Masters, and played conservatively for three birdies and no bogeys as his lead kept increasing.
His first birdie came at the third hole and put him five in front, the second was at the sixth where he led by four from Smail who birdied holes four, five and six, and the third for the day was at the 12th where everyone conceded him the title because he was six in front and cruising.
“It makes me feel great to be an Australian,” he told a crowd estimated by the Australian Golf Union to be the biggest ever seen at a tournament in this country. “I don’t get all that many chances to play at home so when I do win here, it is special.”
The victory was doubly pleasing, he said, because he had been working on swing changes with coach Dave Leadbetter after parting company with Butch Harmon. “I still made a few swings that were a little bit off,” he said. “I had given myself until March next year to see the result of changing coaches so it is great to get results so quickly.”
The Australian Open was once referred to as the “fifth major” by six times winner Jack Nicklaus. Norman was not prepared to place it quite so high but said it easily ranked in the top 10 tournaments in the world. “To see whether a championship has credibility, you look at the past champions and the difficulty of the courses,” he said. “On this trophy we have the names of Nicklaus, Player (who won a record seven), Thomson, Nagle, Elkington. That says a lot.”
Grady, who has not won since the Indonesian PGA in 1994 and the 1990 U.S. PGA Championship before that, started the day eight shots behind Norman and matched his closing 69 was more than happy with his performance.
“That was the best I have played for 18 months,” he said after collecting $102,000. “Although I felt I was playing terribly, I concentrated well all week. I did not have great control of my iron shots and Jack Nicklaus courses (Nicklaus redesigned the course in the late 1970s) don’t suit my game, so to play well on one of them is satisfying.
“At least my shots were going where I was looking today. But the key was my putting. My caddie gave me a tip (which he refused to disclose because everybody would be doing it) and it worked. If I had been able to putt like that on the U.S. Tour this year, I would have made $500,000.
“Second in an Australian Open is good. I’ve come second in just about everything else, so I guess I have a full set now. I went out with a faint hope that I could win, but once Greg got to 7 under at the sixth, I started thinking about who was in the hunt for second. I tried to make a few birdies to put some pressure on him, but I couldn’t so I settled for second because I know I am good at that.”
Woods’ debut in Australia was not what his huge gallery of fans were hoping for — 79, 72, 71, 70 — but they were still impressed with what they saw. “I could not get anything positive going,” he said. “Physically and mentally, I made a lot of mistakes and when you do that, you usually don’t win. I spent most of the time in bed, trying to get better (from a cold). It was just a tough week. When the sun finally came out today, I thought I was back in America.”
The 20-year-old said Australian galleries had not seen his best golf, and neither had the people who watched him play as a pro in America. “The last time I played really well was when I shot 61-65 in one day at Big Canyon (in California) to finish at 18-under-par. I have not reached that level as a pro yet.
“You have to learn management in this game. I asked Jack Nicklaus how many majors he won with his A game. He said none. You need strategy and management. Those add up to all that he has won.”
Norman said Woods’ first start was a learning process which he handled quite well. “At least he got the flavour of Australian courses,” he said. “We play very difficult courses here. He got a shock when he shot 79. Perhaps he will appreciate why Australians play so well when they leave home. The first time you play here, you get a deep appreciation of how difficult they can be. But after the first round he came back with a creditable performance. He should find it easier next time.
The Australasian PGA Tour moves to Victoria this coming week for the $700,000 Greg Norman’s Holden Classic at Royal Melbourne.