Golf Australia

Aussies inspired by Scott for Volvo China Open

Nick Cullen
Golf Australia Rookie Squad member Nick Cullen.

Adam Scott's heroics at the U.S. Masters earlier this month have given Australia's talented golf professionals fresh inspiration for next week's 20 million yuan (around U.S. $2.3 million) Volvo China Open.

Scott, winner of the Australian Open on OneAsia in 2009, beat Argentinian Angel Cabrera on the second hole of a sudden-death play-off to become the first Aussie to don the coveted green jacket, and the first player from "Down Under" to claim a Major since Geoff Ogilvy bagged the U.S. Open in 2006.

Many felt the Augusta win was just reward for the way Scott dealt with the heartbreak of blowing a four-shot lead with four holes to play at the Open Championship last year -- a collapse reminiscent of countryman Greg Norman's infamous meltdown at the 1996 Masters when he squandered a six-stroke third-round lead to finish runner up to Britain's Nick Faldo, who won by five.

The national collective yearning for success was evident as Scott drained a wicked 20-footer for birdie on the last hole of regulation play at Augusta; "C'mon Aussie!" he shouted as it dropped -- and in the background, fist-pumping and cheering as if he had sunk the winning putt himself, was playing partner and countryman Marc Leishman.

Leishman finished tied fourth -- a shot behind countryman Jason Day -- capping an excellent week for Australia after something of a lean couple of years on both the U.S. PGA and European Tours.

Despite boasting 21 players with PGA Tour rights -- second only to the Americans themselves -- Australia had just one winner in 2012, Leishman. Matthew Zions was the last Australian winner on the European Tour, at the Saint-Omer Open in France in June 2011. Scott also won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2011.

Aussies have thrived on OneAsia, however, and next week's Volvo China Open -- co-sanctioned by the European Tour -- provides a stage for 14 of them to display their talents in the world's most populous country and before a live television audience of hundreds of millions.

Leading the charge will be another Scott -- this time Scott Strange (above right), winner of the tournament in 2009 when it became OneAsia's first-ever event.

Strange lost his playing rights in Europe last year, but re-basing to Perth has given him the opportunity to reflect on his priorities after a rough few years on the home front, and he has started 2013 with a bang.

"Being based back home has actually been good for me … it suits me at this point," said the 36-year-old, who finished runner-up at OneAsia's season-starting Thailand Open last month and followed it with joint seventh at the Enjoy Jakarta Indonesia PGA Championship a fortnight later.

"I am getting to spend a lot more time with my family and the travel is not as brutal."

Helped also by second place at the New Zealand PGA Championship in March, Strange has climbed more than 500 places up the Official World Golf Rankings since the start of the year and is now knocking on the door of the top 300, having reached as high as 89th after winning the Volvo China Open in 2009.

Another veteran -- by the yardstick of a field that includes 12-year-old amateur qualifier Ye Wocheng -- is Andre Stolz, 42, winner of OneAsia's Order of Merit title in 2011 on the back of victories at the Thailand Open and Indonesia PGA Championship.

Stolz is playing himself back into form after a lean period and challenged strongly for two days defending his Indonesia title earlier this month until falling away at the weekend.

Three young Australians who recorded their maiden significant professional victories on OneAsia last year will be looking to the Volvo China Open for an opportunity to be noticed on a wider stage.

Nick Cullen (Enjoy Jakarta Indonesia Open), Matthew Griffin (Charity High1 Resort Open) and Daniel Popovic (Australian PGA Championship, presented by Coca-Cola) all watched Scott's Masters triumph and will be hoping to draw inspiration from that victory at Tianjin Binhai Lake Golf Club from May 2-5.

"Thanks for restoring the heartbeat of Australian golf," tweeted Griffin just seconds after Scott's winning putt fell. "You are a bloody legend."

"I've never seen a more deserving champion. The first of many Majors for Adam Scott," said Cullen.

"3AM and I'm already wide awake," tweeted Popovic as the fourth round got underway. "Today is the day of the Aussie at The Masters. Come on!!!!!".

Three other Australian OneAsia regulars still looking for their first win are Aaron Townsend, Anthony Brown and Jamie Arnold, who have all performed well in the past 18 months.

The Aussies playing from the European Tour side -- although most have also played OneAsia events before -- are Marcus Fraser, Scott Hend, Brett Rumford, Richard Green, Andrew Dodt and the aforementioned Zions.

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Golf Australia