The 14th and final event of the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia is upon us, with the best male golfers in the country headed to the Northern Territory for the NT PGA at Palmerston Golf Course.
There is still Order of Merit scenarios to play out, despite Jed Morgan locking up top place on the list and a guaranteed DP World Tour card among other spoils, before the season is assigned to the record books. Morgan's lead big enought for the Queenslander to skip this event where he played well as an amateur in 2020.
Four of the five winners of the oversized crocodile skull trophy are in the field this week, while the in form players from the circuit will be looking to cash in one more time before a break and a young players will be gaining some valuable tournament experience.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: It was a special win in 2020 for Aaron Pike who grew up in the Territory and played his junior golf at this week’s host venue that has welcomed the Tour each year since 2016.
Pike’s family have even been involved in sponsoring his hometown event, and last year’s victory (played out over 54 holes and a non-order of merit event) was warmly received by the locals and was somewhat bittersweet for the victor.
RIGHT: Aaron Pike holds the unique NT PGA trophy above his head in 2020. PHOTO: PGA of Australia.
Pike started the final day level with Nathan Barbieri in the lead before a hot front nine saw him take a four shot lead that one of his closest friends on Tour, Michael Sim, pegged back by the time the scorecards were signed thanks to a hot run late in the day.
Tied at 12-under, the pair went back to the 18th tee, Sim, who was staying with Pike’s family that week, getting a flyer from the rough to hand the now Queensland based player the victory.
COURSE: Now a regular stop on the Aussie Tour, Palmerston Golf Course was built in 1995 as a nine hole course and became the 18 holes it is today 10 years late in 2005.
Glenn Campbell was the architect of the newer ‘Durack’ nine, the time difference and an intention from the club resulting in two contrasting loops that place impetus on different skills of the elite players that descend each year for the NT PGA.
More open and with water on six holes, the front side offers more scoring opportunities before the turn for home sees tighter tree lined holes.
Playing to a par of 71 and measuring 6,001 metres, Palmerston is lightly bunkered while each hole owns a name, with The Bus Stop, Many Tears, Heart Break and Devil’s Elbow among the more memorable.
Measuring 529 metres, the par-5 9th is the longest hole on the course with a large green offering many pin positions offering scoring chances to the longer hitters in the field, while the par-4 18th is just 308 metres, but the dogleg left hole hugs out of bounds left with a green surrounded by three bunkers.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The defending champion tops this list for more than just a clear level of comfort at what was once his home club.
Aaron Pike took the title here in 2020 despite not playing his best at the time, instead relying on his course management and mental game to eventually top Sim in the play-off, and Pike has been performing well this year too.
The winner of TPS Hunter Valley, Pike has five other top-20s in 2022, including last week’s T11 at the WA Open and if he were to win and other results go his way, he could still swing one of the three DP World Tour cards on offer via the Order of Merit.
Finishing T9 last week and like Pike in good form and a winner this year, Dimi Papadatos sits in fourth on the money list less than $1,000 behind Andrew Dodt who is back in action after not teeing it up at Royal Fremantle.
Papadatos doesn’t need to win to move up the list and earn a card in Europe, while Dodt’s established status in Asia makes him a potentially unlikely regular on the Old World circuit if he were to remain in third or move above Blake Windred in second.
Experiencing something of a hot and cold Summer form wise, Louis Dobbelaar will be hoping his first pro win arrives in the Northern Territory like it has for other past winners to earn him the ticket to the world’s second largest Tour.
Dobbelaar shared 37th last week, and will play with the freedom that he has guaranteed status on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica if he is unable to finish on the Order of Merit podium, and with the knowledge that the top-five players earn Korn Ferry Tour final qualifying exemptions.
Sharing third here in 2020, Nathan Barbieri finished just two shots adrift of last week’s WA Open winner Braden Becker, the result his second top-five result in his last three starts.
Another of the young players looking for a first win, Josh Armstrong has been one of the form players on Tour of late.
The Concord Golf Club member has recorded five top-10s in his last six starts and if he can keep the occasional big number off his scorecard Armstrong’s power could allow him to go very low around Palmerston.
72-HOLE RECORD: 264, (Brett Rankin, 2019)
RECENT WINNERS: Brett Rankin (2019), Daniel Nisbet (2018), Travis Smyth (2017), Jordan Zunic (2016)