Getting In The Mood: The Australian Open At The Lakes

Hard to believe it was only a year ago one of the wackiest golf tournaments was held at The Lakes, but the Emirates Austrlian Open returns to the super-cool Mike Clayton-renovated course with not nearly as stellar as a field as 2011. That's because the Presidents Cup hasn't lured some big name Americans Down Under.
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Golf Channel Records Big Numbers Down Under

I'm a little unclear which telecasts these are since the events started airing on Wednesday and Thursday, but either way, the numbers from Golf Channel are impressive:

Headlined by Tiger Woods and as a lead-in to our exclusive coverage of The Presidents Cup this week, the Thursday and Friday’s opening rounds of Australian Open pulled some great numbers on air and online, proving our strategy a success:
 
Round One garnered 396,000 average viewers (0.4 household rating).

·         Up 212% from same week in 2010 (JB Were Masters Round One)
·         Up 146% from same week in 2009 ( also JB Were Masters Round One)
·         3rd-highest non-PGA TOUR Round One on Golf Channel this year.
 
Traffic on GolfChannel.com also garnered some impressive numbers.  On Thursday, November 10, online traffic (1.2 million page views) experienced its busiest day since the new site launched in June, exceeding the busiest days of the US Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship.
 
Preliminary numbers for Australian Open Round two attracted 447,000 average viewers (0.5 household rating)
·         Up 105% from 2010 JB Were Masters Rd 2
·         Up 22% from 2009 JB Were Masters Rd 2
·         3rd-highest non-PGA TOUR Round Two on Golf Channel this year.
 
On Friday, November 11, GolfChannel.com continued the momentum for online traffic (1.1 million), experiencing the one of the busiest days since the new site launch, second only to previous day which broke all records.

Allenby Looking Forward To Getting On "Real" Greens

He might have an ounce of credibility if he even tried to play ready golf, didn't use some sort of hideous claw putting grip or if he displayed even a semblance of game to justify his Presidents Cup selection. Nonetheless, I share this because the greens are just fine to great considering the severity of Tuesday's storms, so slide this into the spoiled children files...from an AAP report:

Allenby, a controversial International team captain's pick for next week's Presidents Cup, sounded happy to leave The Lakes and head to hometown Melbourne to get some early practice at the Cup venue.

"I'm not quite at my absolute best but I'll have the whole weekend at Royal Melbourne," Allenby said after shooting 73 for a 4-over-par 148 total.

"I played a lot better today, drove it better (but) putting on these greens isn't going to do you any favours.

"I'm happy to get down there (to Royal Melbourne) and putt on some real greens."

O'Malley Putting With His Eyes Closed

Glenn Jackson explains master ball striker Peter O'Malley's current method of putting, which has him one back heading into the weekend at the Australian Open.

''The advantage I get is knowing where to hit tee shots,'' O'Malley said. ''I've got no advantage on the greens because I've got no idea what they're doing sometimes.''

He misread several putts yesterday but has certainly improved on the greens, largely thanks to his quirky technique, which he introduced to his game last year. O'Malley did not miss any putts from two metres or less yesterday, all of which he undertook with his eyes closed, which means he can be more aggressive with his putting.

''It takes away the visual anxiety,'' O'Malley said. ''I am not seeing what the putter is doing so I don't feel any anxiety over it. I just close my eyes and let it flow.''

The Aussies Do Efficient Scoring Signage

This is a post for all of the standard bearers of the world.

Doug Ferguson pointed out the cleverly designed scoreboards here at the Australian Open. The volunteers do not have to access different numbers and keep red and black ones straight, but instead just need to flick little slits from white to black to update scores. While the signs are a lot heavier than the American versions we see, they are far superior on an efficiency basis.

They also have clever on-course leaderboards that use the same system featuring a handy design that easily lets the volunteer lower and raise the board to update scores.

Video demonstration:

 

A Few Early Round Tiger Observations

With Tiger vaulting to the top of the Australian Open leaderboard, it's hardly a revelation to say his game is rounding into shape. But even before he ran off birdies at the 13th, 14th, 16th and 18th holes to post an opening 32, he's exuding much more confidence and focus than even a month ago when he played at CordeValle.

Despite the glacial pace and anti-ready golf of playing partners Jason Day and Robert Allenby, Woods' swing and body language looked as comfortable as I've seen in some time. 

His short game is looking better, highlighted by a brilliant lob wedge on the par-5 11th hole (his second hole of the day). He missed the birdie putt, but the shot was a far cry from some of the lousy short game antics he's displayed in the last year or so. 

One thing to look for and I haven't a clue what it means: a Gary Player-like follow through where his right foot and hip gently spin through after impact. Twice it happened on downhill lies, but he also sported one flat lie and I wonder if it's a move to take a little pressure off his right knee leg?

A few images from early in the round (click on them to enlarge) hopefully captures the energy and passion of Aussie golf, where the spectators are very supportive of Woods:


 

Start Of The Lakes Back Nine Photo Gallery

After the more intimate front where holes move back and forth on a smaller scale, The Lakes back nine opens with a tight short par four before exploding on a grand scale with several dramatic holes highlighted by striking water hazards.

Because of an approaching storm, I was only able to get solid shots of the first four holes of the back but I think you'll enjoy seeing the architecture and quality detailing work by Mike Clayton and his team.

The images show the narrow, short par-4 tenth, followed by the neverending three-shot 11th, the long 12th playing to a skyline green, and the fantastic driveable downhill 13th. From there the water takes over to set up what should be a dramatic finishing stretch before intimacy returns with the short par-3 18th.

Front Nine At The Lakes, A Photo Gallery

The front nine at The Lakes doesn't get the respect it deserves because of the grand scale of the back nine and generally sad perception that great golf must be on a large, sharply undulating scale.

The first plays with water on the left--certainly not ideal--before crossing under a road and traversing back and forth on beautiful terrain. The holes are separated by sandy areas which look old and full of character despite having been unveiled less than two years ago.

The greens are large and bold, with a plethora of great hole locations and only a couple that struck me as not being of great interest. The tee complexes sit in the ground beautifully and offer plenty of options, as well as a model for "proper" tees. Little splashes of sand and scrub make the blend in beautifully, but never get in the way of setting up the hole.

But mostly, the front has the appearance of being a fun, challenging nine with a solid variety of holes if you can look past some of the routing constraints. Hopefully these images help supplement the television coverage starting Wednesday night at 11 p.m. ET. (Click on the photos page to see captions.)

Scenes From The Lakes Practice Round

A few scenes from The Lakes, where spectators are respectful but definitely getting a front row seat. In this case, a Greg Norman, Geoff Ogilvy practice round on the front nine before a nasty thunderstorm later in the afternoon.

I'll have more to say and show you regarding the course (it blew me away), but in the meantime just a few shots. Note the number of tour bags on trollies! That won't continue during the tournament proper, but still fun to see.