Try telling Cameron Smith and Matt Kuchar the Australian Open has lost its lustre.
Smith, Kuchar and fellow US PGA Tour stalwarts Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker shape as the chief contenders this year in the absence of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Adam Scott, among other former world No.1s like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy who have played over the past decade.
But while officials have come under fire for failing to attract golf’s biggest names, those in Sydney for the 104th Open are treating this week’s event like a mini-major.
“I really want to get this one,” said top local hope Smith ahead of Thursday’s opening round.
“I rate this tournament, every tournament in Australia, pretty highly in my books.”
Still hurting from a “heartbreaking” play-off loss to Spieth in 2016 at Royal Sydney and joint fourth last year at The Australian, Smith has arrived at The Lakes with a new approach in his quest to add the Stonehaven Cup to his 2017 Australian PGA Championship title.
“That’s really been the determination behind the hard work,” he said.
‘Traditionally I slacken off after those (end-of-year) Asian events and then come down here fresh after a couple of weeks off.
“But I’ve been working hard pretty hard the last couple of weeks back in Jacksonville.”
Kuchar, the Open’s highest-ranked player and fresh off his first PGA Tour win in four years in Mexico on Sunday, probably wouldn’t have made the gruelling trek if he didn’t have the chance to join Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Greg Norman and the like on the Stonehaven Cup.
“Having some history to an event, having guys like that that have won this event, adds to the allure of coming and playing and trying to put your name on that list of champions,” Kuchar said.
“If the list included a bunch of guys none of us (had) ever heard of, it wouldn’t have nearly the draw.
“But because it is a national Open, because golf’s such a big part of kind of sport and people’s lives in Australia, you’ve seen some great names come and play and perform well.
“That helps add to the excitement of being down here and trying to add my name to that list.”
But the Open is by no means any four-way race between Smith, Kuchar, 2007 runner-up Snedeker and Bradley – the 2011 US PGA champion and only major winner in the 144-man field.
Golf Australia boss Stephen Pitt has been predicting a “handing of the baton” as a wave of exciting youngsters led by defending champion Cameron Davis, Brett Coletta, Anthony Quayle, pro debutant Zach Murray and Jake McLeod look to emerge from the shadows of Day, Scott and Marc Leishman.
“There’s a lot of guys out here that can win this week, a lot of Aussies,” Smith said.
“They’re coming off three or four weeks of tournament golf as well, so everyone’s pumped and ready to go.”