A total of 15,754 kilometres and $5 million in prizemoney separates the two European Tour events this week, although there won’t be a beanie or jumper in sight during the Fiji International – a fact the concurrent tour stop in St Andrews won’t be able to boast.
For those players favouring Fiji over Fife, the reward is the lure of an exotic location and a tournament on the rise as the third instalment of the PGA Tour of Australasia event becomes part of the European Tour for the first time. The co-sanctioning agreement has improved the calibre of the field and the opportunity for Australasian pros to gain a foothold on a larger tour, as well as the prizemoney on offer (although the $1.5 million purse at Natadola Bay still pales in comparison with the $6.5 million on offer in Scotland).
Joining the party in paradise is tournament drawcard Brandt Snedeker, the American hoping to atone for his disastrous showing at the Australian PGA Championship last December in his most recent appearance on our circuit; along with countrymen Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum, plus Fijian legend and course design collaborator Vijay Singh.
Leading the Australian contingent are Robert Allenby, Steven Bowditch, Peter Lonard, Jarrod Lyle and Peter O’Malley, plus last year’s runner-up to Matt Kuchar, Aron Price, and inaugural Fiji International champion Steven Jeffress. Kuchar is not returning to defend.
An important inclusion in the field this year will be the minimum of six Fijian golfers for whom places were made available through qualifying events. The annual presence of Singh and the opportunities for local players add an authentically Fijian flavour to the tournament.
The volatile winds whistling off the Pacific will have their say in any tournament at Natadola Bay Golf Course. Last October Matt Kuchar was the only player to break par for 72 holes and cackled in astonishment as a seemingly missed putt early in the tournament turned and blew back into the cup. He won at 4-under a year after Steven Jeffress claimed the inaugural staging at 10-under when the tournament was staged in August. Depending on conditions, this year’s winning total is likely to be somewhere between the two scores.