Aussies to make strong challenge at NZ Open

Last updated 14:39 21/11/2012

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The most accomplished Australian golfer at the New Zealand Open this week is warning the Kiwis to expect a strong challenge from the relatively unknown Aussie contingent.

Peter O'Malley, the 1995 Open champion and a three-time winner on the European Tour, is a regular visitor to New Zealand and although on paper this appears to be one of the weakest fields he would have seen, the Aussie veteran still expects a big challenge from his countrymen.

He is by far the biggest name from across the ditch here at Clearwater this week, and little known Nick Cullen, at No 383, is the highest ranked Australian in the field, but that doesn't mean a New Zealander will walk away with the title.

"They might not be household names but there are some very good players out there," the 47-year-old said today.

"Like Greg Turner said, the gap between the top players and guys who are coming through is not that great. If someone has a good week, they'll win.

"There are too many guys out here to list who are good enough to win, you just haven't heard of them yet."

Even though he is nearing senior tour status, O'Malley is certainly a chance this week and he has the pedigree at Clearwater, having won co-sanctioned Nationwide Tour events here in 2002 and 2005.

With the New Zealand Open win in 1995, three of his eight wins worldwide have been in New Zealand.

"I like coming back here. It's been a while since I won the NZ Open but I've won the PGA around this course," he said.

"We do feel old these days. All these young guys hit the ball a long way but I'm looking forward to it.

"I've cut back my schedule a bit and just trying to play as many golf tournaments as I can in Australia and New Zealand, not travelling to Europe at all, and getting ready for the seniors tour."

He said he felt his game was in good enough shape to crash what is hoped will be a New Zealand party and he has his fingers crossed that the wind gets up.

"I like this golf course. It's in very good shape. There looks like there's a bit more rough around so the emphasis is on driving the ball well. I wouldn't come here if I didn't feel like I couldn't compete.

"I do like the wind normally but last week (at the Australian Masters) I had trouble putting when it was windy. I would still like a bit of wind. I don't think I've played here when it hasn't been windy and I do play a lot better when it blows a bit."

O'Malley is among the first groups to tee off tomorrow morning in the 94th NZ Open and is playing alongside two of the favourites to break a nine-year Kiwi title drought, Mark Brown and Gareth Paddison.

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