18 Feb 2013 - NZPGA
The Australians are mounting a powerful challenge for New Zealand’s hottest golf tournament, the NZPGA Championship in Queenstown.
An impressive array of talent will cross the ditch for this month’s PGA Tour of Australasia tournament at The Hills, led by world number 80 Brendan Jones. The 37-year-old New South Welshman will no doubt be seen as the man to beat, but there are a host of other Australians to be wary of.
Two with recent form on the board are Jake Higginbottom and Daniel Popovic.
Higginbottom needs no introduction after hitting the headlines late last year. The Aussie teen upstaged a number of seasoned professionals to become the first amateur in more than 50 years to win the New Zealand Open in Christchurch. He turned pro just four days later and not surprisingly is being touted as the next big thing in Australian golf.
Meanwhile, Popovic showed what he is capable of when he picked up his maiden professional title at December’s Australian PGA Championship. The 26-year-old Victorian started the event as a 400-1 outsider, but posted a 16-under-par total to complete an improbable start to finish victory over a field that included the likes of Geoff Ogilvy, Darren Clarke and Rory Sabbatini.
Another player to watch is former US PGA TOUR player Michael Sim. The 28-year-old West Australian launched himself onto the world’s most lucrative tour in 2009, when he won three tournaments on the Web.com Tour. He went on to easily retain his PGA TOUR card in 2010 when he finished 67th on the money list. Sim suffered a shoulder injury in 2011, which has hampered his progress for the past couple of years, but is now fully fit and determined to regain his place amongst the world’s elite golfers.
Others stalking the NZPGA title include Nick Cullen (winner of the 2011 Indonesian Open), Paul Sheehan (2006 Japan Open winner), Kim Felton (winner of 11 professional tournaments worldwide) and Scott Strange (two-time European Tour winner).
And what would a top-level golf tournament in New Zealand be without the presence of Peter Fowler, Craig Parry, and Peter O’Malley? The evergreen trio has snared a number of titles between them on this side of the Tasman, and will once again be a popular attraction with the appreciative crowd.
The talented Australian line-up will ensure defending champion Michael Hendry will have to be at the top of his game to retain the title he won in 2012. Hendry also faces a stiff challenge from a host of fellow Kiwis, including Mark Brown, Steven Alker, David Smail, Ryan Fox, Gareth Paddison, Josh Geary, Brad Shilton, Phil Tataurangi, Richard Lee, Perth-based Michael Long and an evergreen Greg Turner playing on home soil.
When you add the three times US Open Champion Hale Irwin and host of top Asian players into the mix (headed by five-time Japan Tour winner Toshi Muto) you have one of the strongest ever line ups in decades to compete for an NZPGA Championship title.