HUGGAN: Find out who can play

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by John Huggan @ The Lakes

Veteran Peter O & # 39; Malley fought against a 77. Image: Getty

This was the kind of afternoon when you find out who really can play. The sun did not shine. It was not flat calm – far from it. And it rained down and on. In short, the golf after lunch of players who compete in the opening round of the 103rd Australian Open in The Lakes got the wrong end of the draw.

So this was a time to keep the head down – normally the worst golf advice – focus on scoring instead of swinging and just surviving well enough to fight another day. It is one of the roughest clich├ęs of the game, but that is not for nothing: you can not win the tournament on Thursday, but you can certainly lose it.

Considering all of the above, the eye was drawn by the 12.40 tee-time and the trio of Peter Senior, Peter O & # 39; Malley and Matt Griffin. Two of the most respected veterans of the Australian wave – neither is eligible for what Lee Trevino has dubbed the "Flat Belly & Tour" tour – alongside one of the country's most consistent artists. All in all, a group that looked like a spectator could learn a thing or two.

And that spectator would have been correct. In the course of the opening of the nine holes there were different lessons to learn.

When I left the first green, Senior – Australian Open champion in 2012, the last time the event came, it was four times more than average. The opening tee shot was turned left in water. The second attempt was completely in order and found a bad lie on a sand hill. Eventually it all added to an eight on par-4. But unlike a slight acceleration in his rolling course, it was impossible to even discover a hint of what Senior had just endured.

But the turn, the 59-year-old Queenslander was six over the card. But it could have been worse. Much worse. A leg of 40 feet for par disappeared at the fifth. He needed two shots to escape another terrible lie in the bunker to the left of the sixth green – but made the putt for bogey. A few decent second putts for pars also found the bottom of the cup.

The lesson: never give up, even if it might be easier to shrug and think about better times.

Then there was O & # 39; Malley. Long known for the consistency and accuracy of his long game and, unfortunately, a tendency to wrestle short distance on the greens, the former Scottish Open Champion has switched to the long putter in an effort to avoid the dreaded heebie-jeebies. defeat. And it seems to have helped.

Courtesy of an agile chip from just outside the opening green, O & # 39; Malley saved par. Bogeys on the third and fourth place put him back, but a bunch of little birds balanced the books. Yes, a short was missed for what would have been a third birdie on the 8th. But a tee-shot to a foot on the next green – strangely greeted with almost complete indifference by the spectators behind the putting surface – brought the 53-year-old New South Welshman on the turn in par

That all sounds good, but hardly exceptional. But as one of the shorter players in the game, the soft conditions under it made for the obvious idea that the job O & # 39; Malley played was very different from that played by the long-awaited Nicolas Colsaerts in the group us lies. Take the 490 yard third hole. Where the Belgian was home in two with a drive and a mid-iron, his Australian counterpart came short with two woods. Level par after nine holes was therefore a more than noble attempt.

The lesson: In bad weather, hitting the ball is at least as important as hitting the ball.

Unfortunately the back-nine was less friendly for O & # 39; Malley under deteriorating conditions. Two bogeys preceded an unplanned visit to the lake opposite the par-5 14th green that led to a double bogeyman. Eventually he dropped to a 77, four shots better than Senior.

Griffin, not surprisingly, did better than any of his companions. The Japan Tour regular and former New Zealand Open champion, a solid striker in all weather conditions, made three birdies and four bogeys on their way to a one-on par-lap of 73, giving him six shots in the lead. Not great, but certainly not bad on a heavy afternoon.

The lesson: pay attention to even the most obvious golf cliches. The 35-year-old Victorian may not win on Sunday, nor does he lose anything on a wet and windy Thursday.

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