How Aussie horrorshows let ‘fifth major’ slip, again

ANALYSIS: On Sunday morning it looked likely that an Aussie would lift at least one of the two Australian Open trophies.

By the evening, both were – once again – in the hands of international players.

In the women’s, defending champion Ashleigh Buhai was rock solid all weekend, and led from start to finish.

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Minjee Lee‘s fightback on the weekend was stoic, but a poor second round on Friday left her too much work to do on a course that was always going to be hard for the women.

Karrie Webb’s fifth Australian Open victory in 2014 remains the last Aussie women’s winner.

But the Sunday story was a very different one on the men’s side, where six players held the lead at various points, either outright or shared.

At the start of the final round at The Australian on Sunday morning, 17 players – of which eight were Aussies – were within five shots of the lead.

Min Woo Lee had led all weekend, but looked out of sorts somewhat on Saturday and made only one birdie on the back nine to keep his share of the lead.

He was the only Aussie in the final group, and Lucas Herbert the only one in the second-last.

Carrying a three-shot lead into the weekend, Lee made only one birdie in his final 30 holes. He played his final two rounds at even par.

Even with a head start, it was never going to be enough.

Aside from a few obviously bad shots, it didn’t look as though Lee was necessarily playing badly, but the putts that were rolling in for him on the first two days just weren’t dropping on the weekend.

Herbert looked a chance on Sunday, too. He was two-under standing on the ninth tee, but sprayed his tee shot into the deep bush that lines the right side of the fairway.

He punched out sideways, but then dumped his third shot into the greenside bunker.

From an ordinary lie, he got out of the bunker OK, but then compounded his mistakes by three-putting. He walked off with a triple-bogey seven and that was the end of that.

Quite literally at the same time, Adam Scott was on the seventh hole.

After starting his day on the back nine, Scott had briefly taken the outright lead when he sunk a monster birdie putt on the sixth.

That putt took him to six-under for the round. But with his very next shot, he produced what was his worst swing of the day.

His tee shot came to rest well left of the fairway, up against the netting that protects the course from the practice range.

That ball was determined to be out-of-bounds, and his provisional was lying in deep rough on the right. He, too, walked off with a triple-bogey seven.

On the seventh tee, he was sitting at 14-under. He said after the round he thought that was going to be the number required to win.

He was right. Had he not made that triple, he could’ve joined eventual winner Joaquin Niemann and Rikuya Hoshino in the playoff, where he may have sealed his second Australian Open.

It’s the second year in a row Scott’s final round cost him a shot at the title – he started the final round last year in a share of the lead. Polish player Adrian Meronk won by five strokes. 

Golf is undoubtedly as much a mental game as it is a physical one – just ask Greg Norman – and there is little doubt playing at home brings with it a different kind of pressure.

Players will say publicly it’s just another tournament, but there is no doubt the desire to lift a trophy at home is like nothing else.

And at the Australian Open, there’s also the prestige of joining a list of winners that includes Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Norman, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

That’s a who’s who of golf, right there. It’s the most prestigious tournament on the Australasian calendar.

Nicklaus even once referred to it as the “fifth major”. He won it six times.

In the end, in typically windy conditions that The Australian, keeping a clean pair of heels and taking your chances when they came was key.

Lee had plenty of chances, but when he needed it to run hot, his putter was ice cold. 

The guy is still only 25. He’s got plenty of time to iron out any remaining kinks in his game.

His weekend rounds are proof even when he’s not playing his best golf, his game is still good enough to be there or thereabouts.

But surely as the already massive crowds that followed him, Cameron Smith and Hoshino on Thursday continued to swell into the weekend, that pressure only mounted.

There was also plenty of chat about becoming the first player since Greg Chalmers in 2011 to do the Australian PGA-Australian Open double.

But still, the Stonehaven Cup and the Patricia Bridges Bowl will, as they were last year, be checked into flights heading overseas on Monday morning.

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