Golf

Americans give Aussie Open deep field

Sports Xchange Tom LaMarre
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Years ago, when the Big Three led the migration of the best players in the game Down Under to the Australian Open, Jack Nicklaus called the tournament golf's fifth major.

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Nicklaus won the tournament six times from 1964 through '78. Gary Player holds the record with seven titles from 1958 through '74. Arnold Palmer claimed his only title in 1966.

Even though it might be for only one year, Aussie fans at the Lakes Golf Club in Sydney will enjoy a revival of those halcyon days this week in the tournament, which dates to 1904 but was not played from 1914 to '19 because of World War I and from 1940 to '45 because of World War II.

The Presidents Cup will be contested next week at Royal Melbourne, so most of the Americans are in the country a week early, including Tiger Woods, whose last victory anywhere came in the 2009 JBWere (Australian) Masters.

"I haven't played in the (Australian Open) since 1996, and I'm anxious to return," Woods said in a statement. "I have a great affinity for playing golf in Australia, and I'm looking forward to competing against an outstanding field."

Woods finished fifth in that '96 tournament after opening with a 79.

Presidents Cup captains Fred Couples and Greg Norman, who has won the Australian Open five times, also are in the field, considered the best the tournament has ever had.

Joining Woods are US teammates Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, David Toms, Nick Watney, Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan. Steve Stricker wanted to play but is spending this week in Arizona, resting a neck injury.

"I'm really looking forward to being a part of the championship in Sydney," Watney said. "Most of my family are coming down for it. There seems to be a real buzz around this year's Open leading into the Presidents Cup, and it is amazing how many top international players have won the tournament."

Phil Mickelson passed on the tournament to play this week in the Barclays Singapore Open.

Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy, who won his national championship for the first time last year, will be joined by all four of his Aussie teammates on the International team.

Aaron Baddeley captured the Australian Open in 1999 and 2000. Robert Allenby took home the title in 1994 and 2005. Adam Scott was the 2009 champion. Rising star Jason Day will be seeking his first national title.

"Winning the Stonehaven Cup (which goes to the winner) for the first time last year was a special moment in my career and something I'll always remember, being my National Open," Ogilvy said.

"It's fantastic to hear that so many of the US and International team members will be in Sydney before the Presidents Cup."

The history of the tournament is undeniable.

Gene Sarazen became the first American and non-Aussie to win the Australian Open in 1936. In addition to Nicklaus, Player and Palmer, the names on the trophy include major champions Norman, Tom Watson, Bobby Locke of South Africa, Steve Elkington and Kel Nagle of Australia, Mark Calcavecchia and Bill Rogers.

Peter Thomsen, a five-time winner of the British Open and the greatest Aussie golfer of them all, claimed his national championship three times between 1951 and 1972.

In addition to the Presidents Cuppers, the US contingent this week also includes John Cook, John Daly, Matt Jones, Kyle Stanley and two players off the One-Asia Tour, Eugene Choe and Jason Kang.

Brad Faxon was the last American to win the Australian Open, in 1993.

Of course, you have to play in order to have a chance, and for the first time in years, the US has a platoon of golfers Down Under trying to hoist the flag.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, John Daly, Tom Watson, Jason Day, John Cook, Nick Watney, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus

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