So where does the biggest threat to Cam Smith come from in the Australian PGA Championship? Is it the sheer size of the field, buried within which are some of the most promising players in Australia, with those from Denmark, Poland and Japan there too? Or is it the strength of those closest to him in the betting?
On this occasion, it’s surely the latter. The class divide between the PGA of Australia and players who’ve flown the nest, like Smith, is wide. Winner of this in 2017 and 2018, if he turns up at Royal Queensland, a course he knows like the back of his hand, and produces something close to his best golf, the list of potential champions narrows to a figure no higher than 10. The field size won’t matter a jot.
And there is an unshakeable sense that lingers in the background through the hours of research, one which will be familiar to many readers. The sense that all the notes and anecdotes will be rendered meaningless by Smith turning up in his hometown and shooting 60-something from his 6am tee-time on Thursday. Stare at the 7/2 long enough and it starts to lure you in.
Then again we might not be talking about the best version of Smith, and that has to matter. Finishing 42nd in Bangkok equates to badly missing a cut in any decent PGA Tour event, and 22nd in Jeddah is well below the standards we’d expect from him. Smith produced a sensational final round to sign off the LIV Golf season, but the previous seven had been pretty modest.
As for who beats him if someone indeed does, this is a big ask for Ryan Fox, a week after he battled for the Race to Dubai. Even the younger, fresher trio of Min Woo Lee, Adrian Meronk and Rasmus Hojgaard will do well to combat the effects of a South Africa-Dubai fortnight, Lee having managed an hour’s sleep on the flight from the Middle East.
Perhaps then the more experienced campaigners will step up. Adam Scott certainly looks a strong option with Steve Williams on the bag, having won this in 2019 and finished fifth in Japan last time. Marc Leishman meanwhile has plenty to play for having slipped to 71st in the world and not yet won a big event back home, although bar some flashes at Doral he’s played poorly for most of 2022.
With wind unlikely to play a significant role, which would’ve helped elevate Lucas Herbert’s short-game strengths, the one who appeals most is CAM DAVIS, whose PGA Tour form entitles him to be considered the biggest threat to Smith and Scott.
Davis won the Australian Open five years ago thanks to a sensational 64 which vaulted this ambidextrous YouTube star into the spotlight. Defending that title was always going to be difficult and so it proved, but when last we saw him on home soil he took third place behind Scott in this event over at Royal Pines.
Since having established himself on the PGA Tour, winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic last summer, Davis returns to Australia on the back of his most consistent season yet. So well did he play throughout summer that a surprise Presidents Cup call-up came his way, and true to his word he stepped up and produced some quality golf for the International side.
He’s played three times subsequently, improving with every start, and was in the mix for most of the CJ Cup won by Rory McIlroy. It was good to see his iron play improve at Congaree and that firm, fast course with shaved run-offs won’t be the worst warm-up for an Australian PGA at a course redesigned by Michael Clayton.
All of these high-class Aussies will be desperate to play well now finally returning home and among them, it’s Davis who is the pick. He ought to be going well from the second group on the tee alongside local favourite Morgan.
Clues from the Australian Amateur
It was certainly notable that when the event was last played, in January, course knowledge couldn’t have held up any better. Queenslander Jed Morgan won by a whopping 11 shots two years after he’d won the Australian Amateur at a course where he’s a member, and in third place was Louis Dobbelaar, who made the quarter-finals of that same event in 2020.
In fourth was Jake McLeod, another from Queensland, and both Elvis Smylie and Jack Thompson, who tied for 12th, made the knockout stages of the aforementioned Aussie Amateur. Anthony Quayle isn’t from around these parts but has a phenomenal record in Queensland and he defied a slow start to finish sixth.
So, how about a dart on LAWRY FLYNN?
A good amateur in his own right, Flynn’s performance here in 2020 stacks up. He was fourth in the 36-hole stroke play, his second-round 67 at Royal Queensland key to that, and while exiting at the last-16 stage of the match play, that was by one hole to Tom McKibbin. McKibbin went on to lose in the final to Morgan.
Flynn came back here in January and finished 17th, but that’s after a first-round 75. Over the final three rounds he was outscored only by Morgan, and a Saturday 65 was one of a handful of sub-70 scores. Again, we see the benefits of local knowledge and Flynn, the son of farming parents, was raised just a couple of hours away.
He’s played plenty of golf at Royal Queensland down the years and his coach is in fact the club professional here, so the course is one he knows really well, and he arrives in good form. Last month saw him card middle rounds of 63 and 62 to take fifth place in the Western Australian Open and he’s shown something in all four starts since the new season began.
This is tougher, of course, but just as Davis won the Australian Open back at the scene of his Australian Amateur win and Morgan did the same in this event, Flynn might just be able to put his knowhow to use. At 300/1 generally (bet365’s comes with eight places but Coral, Paddy Power, Betfair and Sky Bet are the same price with seven), he’s a sporting bet to really make a name for himself.
Dobbelaar is also on the radar at 150/1. Something of a protege of Smith’s, he was flown to the Open champion’s Florida house back in 2018, along with Morgan. In fact the pair first played together at Royal Queensland in 2013, a round organised by Greg Norman, and Dobbelaar will hope to plot a similar path through the professional ranks having made the switch last year.
So far things haven’t gone quite to plan and he’s recently missed out at Korn Ferry Tour Q-School as well as at Final Stage on the DP World Tour last week, but his blend of amateur pedigree and local knowledge is still somewhat appealing. Perhaps it’s worth considering a first-round leader bet from an early and fascinating group featuring Maverick Antcliff and US youngster Devon Bling.
Another local youngster, Douglas Klein, has finished 27th, 15th, fifth and 12th in the four events that make up the start of the Australian season, and he was second through 54 holes last week. He’s a name we might see on the leaderboard for a while, which was the case in this event four years ago, but there are others here with much greater scope including amateur trio Hayden Hopewell, Connor McKinney and Harrison Crowe, all of whom have been well enough found in the market.
I’ll opt instead for the proven credentials of DAVID MICHELUZZI, himself a high-class amateur before turning professional.
Micheluzzi won the prestigious Australian Master of the Amateurs, joining Jason Day and Aaron Wise on a roll-of-honour which also now features Sahith Theegala. He was third in the Amateur Championship and second in the Australian Amateur, beaten by the very promising Keita Nakajima from Japan.
Around that time he joined the long list of amateurs who have gone well in the Australian Open, finishing fifth having spent the entire week inside the top 10, and there’s a sense now that his career is about to take off having made the decision to focus on his home circuit rather than doing as others have done and head to Europe and the USA for Qualifying School.
Micheluzzi marked our cards after finishing a good 36th in the Dunhill Links, saying that he feels ready to ‘do some damage’ back home, and that’s precisely what he did by winning the Western Australian PGA Championship on his very next start, bagging his first professional title.
A slow start the following week is easily excused but he powered home for seventh, and more good weekend golf has seen him add finishes of 20th and eighth over the last fortnight. It’s a run of quality golf from a confident young player and he’s second in the Order of Merit, meaning that he’s now laid the foundations to bypass Q School and secure DP World Tour membership which goes to the eventual top three.
Performances in these next two events will be important and having sat third through 54 holes on his way to ninth place here in January, he arrives at a course he knows he can handle at the very top of his game. One of the most exciting young players in the field and with a strong month’s golf behind him, he’s one who already looks capable of muscling in among those bigger names.
Harrison Endycott is tempting at 66/1 as he’s already got his PGA Tour card and has shown flashes of what he can do already this season. Last week’s missed cut at the RSM Classic may turn out to be a blessing in disguise and his second-round 66 at Sea Island’s Plantation Course was a nice step back in the right direction.
Anthony Quayle would be a big runner on the pick of his form in spring and summer, including 15th place in the Open, while defending champion Morgan seems to have warmed to the task playing in the LIV Golf series and should put in a decent showing at a course where he’s at his most comfortable.
All are shortlisted along with Jordan Zunic, who narrowly lost out in a play-off to Smith in this event five years ago but might be capable of going well at an enormous price. He arrives having fared best of the Australians at DP World Tour Final Stage, doing enough to secure Challenge Tour membership for 2023, and flew home for 22nd at this course in January to add to a fine record in the event.
Zunic still has more to offer at the age of 30, his promising career having been set back by a serious car accident almost a decade ago, but winning an event like this remains a big ask and perhaps his chance came and went at Royal Pines back in 2017.
I’ll take a final chance on YANWEI LIU, a young Chinese player who finished a shot behind Zunic at Qualifying School and played superbly over the final four rounds, shooting 15-under across them having got off to a poor start.
He’s undeniably hard to assess but had been in good form back home when last seen and we have seen him perform in fields similar to this one, with two nice efforts in the Mauritius Open plus 11th place in the Shenzhen International won by Bernd Wiesberger at the expense of Tommy Fleetwood back in 2017.
Third on the China Tour’s money list last year, I suspect he’s just a bit better than prices of 250/1 and bigger suggest and that Q School effort offers enough encouragement to recommend the smallest and most speculative of wagers (500/1 on offer in places) in an event the Aussies will likely boss.
Posted at 1105 GMT on 22/11/22
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