2023 is rapidly drawing to a close but the time-honoured Australian Open is still to be run and won in Sydney.
Despite a few hiccups last year, the 2023 Australian Open will again see the men’s and women’s events played concurrently.
And with a star-studded field assembled, it should be an absolute cracker of a tournament.
The Australian Open will be played at The Australian and The Lakes Golf Clubs, starting Thursday November 30 and finishing December 3.
THE DEFENDING CHAMPIONS
Poland’s Adrian Meronk returns to defend the Stonehaven Cup he won last year in Melbourne and will again be one of the favourites.
The lanky Pole has won twice this year: the Italian Open in May followed by the Andalucia Masters in Spain.
Meronk’s Andalucia win came a week after Europe won the Ryder Cup and was sweet vindication after he was controversially snubbed from the European team.
Meanwhile defending women’s champion, South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai, will attempt to win the Patricia Bridges Bowl a second time.
The 34-year-old is also a two-time winner in 2023, winning her national open in March before claiming the LPGA’s ShopRite Classic in September.
Australian Peter Lonard was the last player to mount a successful defence of an Australian Open, winning in 2003-04, while Taiwan’s Yani Tseng won back-to-back Women’s Opens in 2010-11.
With the men’s and women’s tournaments running concurrently this year, play will take place at both The Australian Golf Club and its neighbour, The Lakes Golf Club.
The men’s field features 156 players while the women’s field is capped at 84 entrants.
Over the first two days, every player in the field will play one round at each course before a cut is made at the halfway point.
The top 60 men, plus ties, will make it through to the weekend and the top 32 women professionals will make the cut.
Unlike last year, there will be no third-round cut.
The Australian Golf Club hosted the very first Australian Open back in 1904 and it is expected to provide a stern test this year, along with its nearby neighbour, The Lakes (pictured above).
Both courses have previously held the Australian Open in their own right, with the 2019 men’s Open held at The Australian Golf Club, one year after The Lakes hosted the event.
However, it is the first time in 16 years that the Women’s Australian Open will be played in Sydney. The women’s Open has never been played at The Australian or The Lakes.
Water and bunkers abound at both courses and while little remains of the Alister McKenzie update completed at The Australian in 1926 (media mogul Kerry Packer funded a Jack Nicklaus redesign in the 1980s that eliminated the essence of the original layout), The Lakes was restored to its former glory in 2006 by renowned Australian architect Mike Clayton, who instituted a massive tree removal program.
Despite its name, water doesn’t feature on The Lakes’ front nine. But the back nine kicks it up a notch with plenty of wet stuff, along with the oddity of a par three closing hole.
THE AUSSIE DRAWCARDS
Cam Smith, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman and newly crowned Australian PGA champion Min Woo Lee are arguably the biggest local drawcards teeing it up to win the national open this year.
Only Scott has won the Australian Open (2009) but his countrymen will be desperate to get their name on the Stonehaven Cup.
Add in Lucas Herbert, Cameron Davis (who won in 2017) and Aaron Baddeley (pictured above), the phenom who won the Open as a teenage amateur in 1999 and 2000, and the field is stacked with US-based locals heading back to play this year.
Will one of them be heading back to the US with the trophy?
YES HE CAM
Laconic Queenslander Cam Smith will again be one of the main attractions at the Australian Open but a disastrous PGA campaign last week has taken some shine off his chances of winning his first Stonehaven Cup.
Runner-up to Jordan Spieth in 2016, Cam just scraped into the weekend at last year’s Open and admitted he was battling after over-indulging during his victory celebrations after claiming the Australian PGA Championship the week before.
But rather than celebrating, Cam will be commiserating a performance that had none of the trademark brilliance and grit one of the world's best players is known for.
He finished second at the Asian Tour’s Hong Kong Open three weeks ago, which makes his missed cut in Queensland all the more puzzling.
If he can turn it around and his putting is on, it’ll take a huge effort to reel Cam in.
THE 18TH HOLE AT THE AUSTRALIAN
The closing hole to win the national Open doesn’t get much more dramatic than the 18th at The Australian.
A 486m par five, the front of the 18th green is guarded by a water hazard that makes any attempt to reach the green in two extremely intimidating.
But like all great golf holes it’s a risk-reward scenario that could decide the tournament. Successfully reaching the dancefloor in two will set up an eagle chance; but rinse it and your winning hopes will likely disappear down the gurgler.
Whatever happens, the complexity of The Australian’s 18th hole should guarantee the tournament won’t be decided until the final putt drops.
After claiming her second win of the year at the BMW Championship in South Korea in October, world No.5 Minjee Lee is a deserved favourite to claim her maiden Australian Open.
She finished fifth last year and after winning two majors in her career so far would like nothing more than to add her national Open to her resume.
Minjee is the highest ranked player in the field and her consistency and brilliant iron play should have her near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.
THE 11TH HOLE AT THE LAKES
Over at The Lakes, the 528m par five 11th hole is without doubt one of the most challenging holes in Australian championship golf.
From tee to green, a lake lurks ominously down the entire right side of the hole and wraps around the front of the green, placing a premium on positioning off the tee to green light an attempt to reach the putting surface in two.
The hole entered Australian Open folklore in 2011 with a real-life Tin Cup moment.
In the first round, two-time major winner John Daly hit six consecutive balls into the water when attempting to reach the green in two.
He ran out of balls, walked off the course, jumped into a courtesy car and headed back to his hotel room.
JD was subsequently disqualified, and his appearance money wasn’t forthcoming.
LET HIM COOK
Star Perth young gun Min Woo Lee showed he has the game to back up his immense popularity on social media with victory at the Australian PGA Championship last week.
His entertaining Tik Tok and Instagram channels and laidback sense of humour have quickly made him one of the most admired and charismatic up-and-coming pros in the world.
His win at Royal Queensland came after Lee won the Asian Tour’s Macau Open in October, snapping a two-year winning drought, and he’ll get to enjoy some rare family time in Sydney alongside his superstar sister Minjee, who is the favourite to win the women’s title.
Could the siblings pull off a duel Open heist this year?
They might not get a better chance than this year and whenever Min Woo wins, it seems like Minjee wins the following week.
Watch out for the chef's hats in the crowd and keep an ear out for Min Woo fans screaming out “let him cook” — his now ubiquitous social media catchphrase — as he dazzles the fans in Sydney.
With the men’s and women’s Opens being played side-by-side, Perth’s Hannah Green is one player who has an enviable record playing with the blokes.
Green created history at last year’s TPC Murray River event, which saw her become the first female winner of a four-round mixed gender tournament on any world tour.
The major winner and LPGA star beat all the blokes, including her fiancé Jarryd Felton, but she’d probably trade those bragging rights to add her name to the Patricia Bridges Bowl this year.
THE WOMEN INTERNATIONALS
Two-time major winner and former world No.1 So Yeon Ryu (pictured above) will spearhead the international assault at this year’s Women’s Australian Open.
While the 33-year-old Korean has endured a difficult year on tour, she has been a regular visitor to Australia and finished seventh at last year’s Open.
Fellow Korean Jenny Shin will also tee it up in Sydney, the 31-year-old enjoying one of the best seasons of her career, while rising American star Lucy Li joins the field after playing her first year on the LPGA Tour.
Korea’s Jiyai Shin will also be one to watch.
Shin, who now plays on the Japan and Korea Tours after returning from the US, won the 2013 Australian Open.
ADD SOME CHILE
An unexpected bonus for Australian golf fans emanating from the current LIV/PGA Tour impasse is the presence of two South American superstars in the Open field.
Joaquin Niemann, who finished fifth at the Australian PGA Championship last week, and Mito Pereira (pictured above) are teammates at Torque GC on the LIV Tour and will tee it up this year in Sydney.
With LIV players unable to receive world ranking points in their own events, the Chilean duo will be hoping to pick some up at the Aussie Open and shore up their prospects of making it into the majors in 2024 (the top three finishers are exempt into the Open Championship).
Niemann and Pereira will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Mexican Abraham Ancer, who won the 2018 Australian Open and plays on the Fireballs on the LIV Tour.
BOBBY MAC AND TOMMY MAC
Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre will play at the Australian Open with an eye on receiving an invitation to next year’s Masters.
Sitting just outside the top 50 in the world rankings, the left hander (pictured above) will be hoping a good result in Sydney will be enough to push him inside the top 50 before the year ends and trigger an automatic invitation to Augusta.
MacIntyre made an impressive Ryder Cup debut in Rome this year and just missed out winning the Scottish Open in July after closing with a superb 64 in the final round to finish runner-up to Rory McIlroy.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Tom McKibbin could be a dark horse pick to claim the Australian Open.
The 20-year-old hails from Holywood Golf Club, the same club as Rory McIlroy, and won the Porsche European Open in June.
He is no stranger to Australian golf courses either, playing in the 2020 Australian Amateur at Royal Queensland where he was beaten in the final by Jed Morgan.
Both MacIntyre and McKibbin played at Royal Queensland last week, finishing T33 and T67, respectively.
At the US PGA Championship in May, American club pro Michael Block pulled off an absurd result when he finished T15.
It was the feelgood story of the tournament; a 46-year-old with a day job outplaying many of the world’s best pros.
And the dream became a fairytale in the final round when Block aced the 15 th hole while playing alongside golf’s alpha superstar, Rory McIlroy.
The T15 finish earned Block an automatic start in next year’s US PGA Championship at Valhalla.
But to keep himself fresh, the 46-year-old club pro from California accepted an invitation to play at the Australian Open.
What a story it would be if he could repeat his heroics in Sydney.
CHARGE OF THE KIWIS
The raiders from across the ditch this year include Ben Campbell and Daniel Hillier, who have both won tournaments this year.
Campbell won the Asian Tour’s Hong Kong Open a few weeks ago, beating Cam Smith with a birdie at the final hole, while Hillier (pictured above) broke through at the British Masters in July to claim his maiden win on the DP World Tour.
Add in emerging star Kazuma Kobori, who went close at the Vic PGA and Kerry Mountcastle, who won the Gippsland Super 6 after finishing fourth at the WA Open, and the chances of a Kiwi claiming victory this year look to be as strong as ever.
And it continues on the women’s side of the draw too, with Kazuma’s sister, Momoka Kobori, a big threat after another solid year on the Ladies European Tour.
Written by Jamie Martin
Jamie Martin is currently locked in a battle to keep his handicap hovering around the mid-single digits. Despite his obvious short-game shortcomings, Jamie enjoys playing and writing about every aspect of golf and is often seen making practice swings in a mirror.