Thursday, November 22, 2007


Peter Baker fits the mould of the golfing journeyman very well.
At 40, the Englishman has seen much of what golf can throw at a professional, and it has been 13 long years since he last won on the European Tour, and 21 years since he first played at Huntingdale, Melbourne.
On the eve of this week's MasterCard Masters, where he was considered a 100-1 chance prior to tee off, he went out to dinner with Rory McIlroy (pictured right) and Oliver Fisher and stunned them by telling them he had played at the famous Melbourne course in this tournament before they were born.
"If I told you I played here in 1986 would you believe me?" he asked. "It's true I played at this tournament in 1986. When I told them (Fisher and McIlroy) they almost fell of the chair. It was before they were born," he said.
With such a body of experience at Huntingdale, it's little wonder that Peter was able to come out and fire an opening round 68 and sit one shot behind first-round leader Robert Allenby. Finishing late in the afternoon, he did all his work on his way out, picking up five birdies and a bogey on his front nine.
"I'm delighted with that. I wasn't sure what to expect. Coming down here, it's always different playing golf around Melbourne. It's harder and faster then what we're used to in Europe," he said.
Baker said his best work was later in the round where he wasn't playing the best golf but was able to card nine consecutive pars on the back nine.
"I thought they were very tough, even 15. I thought if I finished with four pars I would be delighted," he said. "I was trying to hang on definitely. I did not play quite as well the last five or six holes. They were tough, but I managed to hang on and keep my score going."
This year he took the decision to go back to the secondary European Challenge Tour in a bid to rediscover the confidence he had in his 20s. In 1993 he appeared to have the golfing world at his feet after wins in the British and Scandinavian Masters. But a long drought ensued, broken only when he won two Challenge Tour events this year.
"It was tough. You realise how spoilt you get, really on the tour with courtesy cars and playing for a lot of money. You get back on the Challenge Tour and you land in Milan and you have to hire a car, and it's pitch black and you have to find where you are. It's certainly a wake up call," he said.
His efforts this year in winning the Credit Suisse Challenge in Switzerland and the Open AGF in France have earned him his card for 2008 and given him a much-needed kickalong in his career.
"Wherever you are, getting a win, you still have to finish it off and do the job, which I did twice. I think it did give me some confidence. I was not quite sure if I could still do it," he said.
He is hoping a strong showing at Huntingdale this week can lead to further success in the pre-Christmas period.
"I thought if I could play a decent week, get some golf under my belt. I'm playing here, New Zealand and South Africa. I thought, worst case scenario, I'll get some practice in, I'll play some good courses and hope that I can keep it going for next year," he said.
It appears very little intimidates 19-year-old Rory McIlroy. Confronted with the world No 18 and one of Australia's best performed golfers as well as the formidable Huntingdale lay-out, the Northern Irishman more than held his own on the opening day.
Any group involving Aaron Baddeley and John Senden is always going to attract a decent gallery in Australia but the prospect of seeing one of the future stars of the game swelled crowd numbers for group 28 to by far the biggest on the course.
Given McIlroy's extraordinary rise in 2007 from promising amateur to one of the best young professionals on the European Tour, the fans were eager to take their chance to see what all the hype was about, and they weren't disappointed.
The boy from Holywood Golf Club, Belfast had done amazing things on the European Tour this year, finishing third in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in his second professional tournament and then grabbing fourth a week later at the Madrid Open.
That secured his European card for 2008 and ensured the hype around him would continue to grow.
McIlroy finished his first competitive round on Huntingdale on two-under, level with Baddeley, three shots clear of Senden and three shots shy of the lead. His only blemish came on the ninth when his tee shot found a tree and he was forced to chip out sideways.
Other than that, it was a very professional round. It is a measure of his poise that down the back nine, as the southerly breeze gained strength and his playing partners struggled, McIlroy put together nine consecutive pars.
Peter Whiteford, the only Scot in the field, had a 73, the same score as England's Oliver Fisher.

Par 72
67 Robert Allenby.
68 Fredrik Andersson Hed (Sweden), Peter Baker (England).
69 Michael Long, Daniel Chopra (Sweden), Stuart Appleby, Rod Pampling, Kurt Barnes, Paul Morantz.
70 Luke Hickmott, Rhys Davies (Wales), Dean Kinney, Matthew Ecob, Robin Hodgetts, Ewan Porter, Matthew Zions, Peter Lonard, Scott Strange, Aaron Black, Nick Flanagan, Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland), Aaron Baddeley, Rick Kulacz, Andrew Tampion, Simon Furneaux, Richard Finch.
71 Michael Campbell.
73 Oliver Fisher (England), Peter Whiteford (Scotland).
74 Robert Dinwiddie (England).



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