Australian golfer Brendan Jones at The Hills last year.
Photo by Olivia Caldwell.
A strong Australian contingent is mounting a powerful
challenge for the New Zealand PGA tournament at The Hills next
An impressive array of talent, led by world No 80 Brendan
Jones, will cross the Ditch for the four-day pro-amateur
tournament starting next Thursday. The 37-year-old from New
South Wales is one of the top players to beat and there is a
host of Australians to contend the cup, won by New Zealand's
Michael Hendry last year.
Two with recent form on the board are Jake Higginbottom and
Higginbottom hit the headlines late last year when he
upstaged seasoned professionals to become the first amateur
in more than 50 years to win the New Zealand Open in
Christchurch. He turned professional just four days later
and, not surprisingly, is being touted as the next big thing
in Australian golf.
Fellow countryman Popovic picked up his maiden professional
title at December's Australian PGA Championship. The
26-year-old Victorian started the event as a 400-1 outsider,
but posted a 16-under-par total to complete an improbable
start to finish victory over a field that included the likes
of Geoff Ogilvy, Darren Clarke and Rory Sabbatini.
Another Australian player to watch is former US PGA tour
player Michael Sim. The 28-year-old launched himself on the
world's most lucrative tour in 2009, when he won three
tournaments on the Web.com tour. He went on to easily retain
his PGA tour card in 2010 when he finished 67th on the money
list. Sim sustained a shoulder injury in 2011, which has
hampered his progress for the past couple of years, but is
now fully fit and determined to regain his place among the
world's elite golfers.
Others stalking the NZPGA title include Nick Cullen, who
visited last year's NZPGA after winning the 2011 Indonesian
Open, 2006 Japan Open winner Paul Sheehan, winner of 11
professional tournaments worldwide, Kim Felton and two-time
European Tour winner Scott Strange. Hendry also faces a stiff
challenge from a host of fellow Kiwis, including Mark Brown,
Steven Alker, David Smail, Ryan Fox, Gareth Paddison, Josh
Geary, Brad Shilton, Phil Tataurangi, Richard Lee,
Perth-based Michael Long and home contender Greg Turner.