Sport : Golf

O'Hern to land Aussie PGA

11th December 2012, 12:42pm

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Nick O'Hern loves playing at Coolum

Nick O'Hern loves playing at Coolum

Our expert Ben Coley is backing Nick O'Hern to win the Australian PGA Championship for a second time this week.

Hyatt Regency Coolum plays host to the Australian PGA Championship for the 11th consecutive year this week, the last here for the time being after officials failed to reach an agreement for the 2013 renewal.

Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr and playing to a par of 72, it's a stunning venue set between Mount Coolum and the Pacific Ocean, one that players can't wait to visit.

The course is challenging but beatable as it's short of 7,000 yards so we should expect the trend of a double-digits-under-par winning total to continue, it's simply a matter of working out which of the field can register the required total.

Last week saw a slight break from what's become normal in these events as the market leaders were beaten by 53-year-old Peter Senior, who was best equipped to battle against howling winds in the Australian Open.

And with neither Adam Scott nor Justin Rose sticking around for this week's event, you just get the feeling that the regular touring pros of Australia will feel like they have a chance to upset the tournament favourites.

The market is headed by John Senden, who fell from first to 18th last Sunday having shot a final-round 82. How rare-winner Senden recovers from that remains to be seen and while he's clearly playing well, he's poor value in any event at a single-figure price, especially one he's yet to win.

Behind him is former champion Geoff Ogilvy, who might not be quite as in control of his ball as Senden is but at least knows how to get the job done once he's in contention. Ogilvy was poor here last year but was runner-up in 2010 and I believe he's very close to winning again.

I say that because his ball-striking statistics have been very solid throughout 2012 and he's missed just two cuts, both at particularly tough venues in Riviera and Olympic Club. However, at 11/1 I can't have him after he failed to contend at a bigger price last week on a course he absolutely adores.

Similarly, Stuart Appleby's renaissance may take a big longer to bear fruit. Last week's seventh was his first top-10 finish anywhere since the 2011 Honda Classic and although it's a massive positive for this event, the demons he's battled over the last 18 months mean it may be hard for him to cross the line even if he does continue that upward curve.

With Marc Leishman not in the best of form, I'm left with Nick O'Hern and although ordinarily I wouldn't dream of backing him at 25/1, I'm actually more than happy with that price here at Coolum.

Since 2004, O'Hern's form in this event reads 4-3-1-20-5-3-6, with his 2006 victory coming courtesy of a holed bunker shot. That's one of just two wins on the Australian Tour - an awful return for one of his talent - but the other also came at Coolum.

Quite simply it's a course he adores and having put together four solid rounds last week for a share of 10th in the Australian Open, little over a month after he shot a scintillating 62 in the first round of the Frys.com Open, there are signs he's in good nick.

Last year he arrived here in slightly better form and therefore went off at around 16/1, but that renewal included the likes of Scott, Bubba Watson, Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley and this year's is significantly weaker.

With serious doubts over those at the head of the market and a severe lack of strength in depth, I find it hard to see him out of the top 10 and therefore am more than happy to get on board, especially as Coolum has seen more than one previous champion come back and regain their title in the past.

Outside of O'Hern, things get tougher.

Queensland born-and-raised Rod Pampling can go close if he gets his putter going as we know he can, while Brendan Jones is a multiple winner across the world and played excellent golf last Sunday to finish second to Senior - he will be full of confidence.

If pushed, however, the other I'd side with at the head of the market is Rory Sabbatini.

He partnered Charles Howell III to finish second in the Franklin Templeton Shootout last weekend and although it's been a hit-and-miss year for the fiery South African, he's a multiple PGA Tour winner who was 10th on his last start here and can definitely be trusted in contention.

Of those at bigger prices, Matthew Griffin and Nick Cullen are involved in the battle for the OneAsia Tour's Order of Merit and the former in particular has fond memories of this course, but can I really see either making the frame? I'm afraid the answer is no.

So I'm going to turn to the first round leader market and here Steven Bowditch makes some appeal at 80/1 with Stan James.

A supremely talented golfer who has endured more than his fair share of off-the-course struggles, it was fantastic to see Bowditch wrap up a 2013 PGA Tour card at Q School earlier this month.

It was a struggle in the end as he battled with final-round nerves but having opened with a round of 73 he played fine golf through rounds two to five, ensuring that he was one of just two players to earn a card despite an over-par first round.

With that effort in mind, it's perhaps best to forgive him a poor effort under less-than-ideal conditions last week and on this easier layout, one that allows his length and aggressive nature to blossom, better is expected.

Bowditch shot 66 to share the lead after round one here last year and in 2010 the same score saw him finish the first round in a share of third.

His last two wins in Australia came after he'd opened with rounds of 64 so we know that he can shoot the lights out, and although a late tee-time wouldn't look ideal it's not enough to put me off a small wager.

It just so happens that the other I like has a morning tee-time so I'll add Aaron Townsend to the staking plan too.

Also priced at 80/1, he shot 68 to open here in 2010 - a round in which he made eight birdies - on his way to a share of sixth overall.

Last year he sat one off the pace after a bogey-free 67, despite failing to take advantage of the par-fives, and I'm inclined to forgive last week's missed cut as he'd been in fine form before what was a very different week to what we should expect here.

Back in 2010 he commented on how delighted he was with the way he was seeing the lines on the course, and that he'd played it many times before but was only now getting to know the way to attack it.

Clearly, the last two years show that he's in the habit of scoring here and at the price he's worth a small bet to make a fast start.

Finally a word on Kim Felton. Here we have a player who professes to love the course and his new putter, and that showed when he finished fourth last week, having previously won a low-key event prior to that.

Felton was once the next big thing of Australian golf - he was the individual winner of the Eisenhower Trophy in 1998 despite the fact that the likes of Baddeley and Luke Donald also played - but injuries and a loss of belief have seriously impeded his progress.

At around the 150/1 mark in both outright and first-round leader markets, he's tempting as the talent is definitely there and his form has seriously improved lately.

However, six missed cuts in his last seven visits to Coolum are hard to justify even if he does profess to love the place, so I have to leave him alone.


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