The Australian DECEMBER 3, 2009 - by Mike Wood


After the hoopla of the Australian Masters at Kingston Heath with you-know-who being watched by an MCG-sized crowd, the Open this week always threatened to be a tournament more about who isn't playing rather than who is.

Tiger Woods chose the sandbelt over Sydney and NSW's beloved Premier Nathan Rees tried to salve the disappointment of Melbourne getting the world's best golfer by announcing that his capital city had snared Brian Eno.

As bemused golf writers reached for their media guides to check out Eno's stroke average for the season, Golf Australia for once pursued a more enlightened path and lured Greg Norman out of "retirement" to spruik its national title. It was a good move. In his fifties and only a part-time player he may be, but the Shark still pulls a crowd. But not with a broken fin - shoulder surgery put paid to plans of seeing Norman striding the NSW fairways.

No matter. The late inclusion of former US Masters champion Fred Couples, just turned fifty but still worth the price of an entry ticket, was some compensation. If only the fragile back which has dogged his career had waited another couple of weeks before flaring up once more.

Australia's finest, of course, are turning out in force for the Open, although Robert Allenby will not be among them - he is playing in South Africa this week. As is reigning champion Tim Clark.

In truth, this year's Open was always a doubtful prospect for Allenby after his flare-up last year over the hoonish behaviour at the party hole, which, interestingly, is yet another absentee this week.

It won't be missed as much as Allenby, his game is in fine touch at the moment and he would surely have been a contender.

The international attraction then is John Daly, back again on Australian turf - at least some of him is. Since he was here twelve months ago, Daly has shed the equivalent of a jockey from his frame and now reckons he has to worry about the wind blowing him over.

Last year's Open was not a good one for JD, let's hope this one is. He will be easy to spot on the course, his clothes make Ian Poulter look drab and he will probably have the largest gallery in tow.

But the reality is the players are just the supporting cast this week. The star of the show will be the NSW layout which, incredibly, is hosting its first Australian Open.

It's a hard place to get to and not easy to navigate for spectators, but those who make the journey will be well rewarded. It is a jaw-dropping golf course.

Botany Bay forms a spectacular backdrop to a layout that began to take shape under the guidance of the great Alister Mackenzie in 1926. It has evolved some since then, survived depression, war and economic hardship and today stands proud as one of the finest courses in the world.

NSW's greatest defence, other than the wind which can whip through this exposed coastline and tear a score to shreds, is its bunkers. In some places cavernous, everywhere venomous, they are to be admired but avoided.

Add in the perplexing greens, a sprinkling of unpredictable weather and it could be an exciting week.

Oh, and did I mention the views? Breathtaking.