If you’re not on the Gold Coast meddling with the 4ft swell, dodging sand hotter than the Titan’s 2019 attack or backing up for your 7th consecutive year as a ‘Toolie’, you’re heading to Royal Pines Resort Golf Course to watch some of the world’s best take part in the Australian PGA Championship.
A tournament soaked in tradition, the likes of Gary Player, Greg Norman, Peter Thomson, Seve Ballesteros and Ian Baker-Finch have all held up the Kirkwood Cup. In recent times, Peter Lonard, Robert Allenby, Adam Scott and defending champion, Cameron Smith have all been successful. Did I forget to mention 2-time winner and all-round nice guy, Peter Lonard…?
Open to the public throughout the year, the Graham Marsh re-designed championship course consists of narrow fairways and steep undulating greens which snake through the tropical surrounds often subject to winds prevailing from the coastline east. Littered with neighbouring bunkers and well positioned lakes, the 6,690m layout favours those accurate from tee to green.
The 2018 edition will host last year’s winner and runner-up at last week’s World Cup of Golf, Cameron Smith, His Cup partner and 4th last year, Marc Leishman, 2016 winner and PGA tour regular, Harold Varner III, and former World Top 10, Geoff Ogilvy. There will also be plenty of international talent with New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, Malaysia’s Gavin Green, and Spain’s Adrian Otaegui.
Come Sunday when the dust settles on another fantastic edition of the Australian PGA Championship, expect those who have found greens as consistent as the intoxication level on Cavill Avenue or those who have holed putts from distances almost as big as our backyards, to add their name to the ever-growing winner’s list on the Kirkwood Cup.
The Main Fancies
Cameron Smith ($7)
The defending champion returns once again to the Royal Pines layout after yet another solid year in the US. Still quite young, Smithy finished strong as favourite in the Australian Open a fortnight ago, only to rue a very poor start fading any chance late. He partnered-up with fellow Aussie and favourite, Marc Leishman, where a poor 2nd round proved costly finishing runner-up in the World Cup of Golf.
A shining light to the last round, Smith’s short game was as good as it gets, even holing out from the bunker to give the Aussies a hope. His victory in last year’s PGA Championship was no fluke, showing strong composure beating a field that consisted of US Master’s winners Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott. Expect him to start where he left-off and prove an absolute force once again this year.
Marc Leishman ($6)
You won’t find many nicer blokes on the PGA tour than Marc Leishman and if there is anyone that deserves to topple the young Queenslander, it’s him. Partnering Smith last week, they become rivals once again as Leishman looks to continue his solid ball striking and consistent attack on the pin to win at a location that has eluded him so far.
In another year that involved success in the US, Leishman has rocketed up the Official World Golf Rankings to be a consistent performer amongst the world’s best. On his day, Leishman is capable of blowing this field apart and although he looked to play second fiddle last week, expect him to put aside the past and prove a solid contender late on Sunday.
Harold Varner III ($9)
With a name synonymous to that of an ancient emperor, Harold Varner III returns to Royal Pines for his 4th consecutive year, having never finished any worse than 6th. Victorious in 2016, Varner was dominant throughout winning against a star-studded field that consisted of England’s Ian Poulter and Italian Edoardo Molinari, along with fellow favourites, Smith and Leishman.
Despite there is most likely to be plenty of support for the locals, it’s hard to ignore Varner’s recent form here along with his ultra-consistent form in the US, where he is constantly mixing it with the world’s best. Varner is a more than deserved favourite amongst a couple of strong Aussies, but expect him to be a big danger come the closing stages of the weekend.
Gavin Green ($81)
The young 24 year old Malaysian would be a stranger to many, but his performance just last week didn’t go un-noticed from President’s Cup captain, Ernie Els. As part of the Malaysian World Cup of Golf team, Green’s ball striking was a thing of beauty as the Malaysian team flirted with the lead numerous time throughout the tournament.
Not a known strong performer in recent times, it will be a big challenge for Green, but when the ‘Big Easy’ speaks, you listen closely. Look for the Malaysian’s solid ball striking to launch him up the leaderboard heading into the weekend. At decent odds, expect Gavin Green to give this a shake and prove a force in years to come.
Jordan Zunic ($67)
Another Australian making his way through the golf rankings is last year’s runner-up Jordan Zunic. The young Aussie may not have had his best year since losing in a play-off to Smith last year, but appearances in premier US and European tour events will bode well fresh off a decent performance at the Australian Open and victory at the Queensland Open.
Having finished in the top 10 here twice in the last 3 years, Zunic will look to feed of some of his past experiences here when he tees off on Thursday. A certain contender for the top 5 and top 10 markets, Zunic will need to be ever the impressive once again if he is to overcome last year’s heartbreak and claim victory.