Defending champ Lonard gets serious at Australian PGA Championship

Defending champ Lonard gets serious at Australian PGA Championship

COOLUM, Australia (AP) — Defending champion Peter Lonard didn’t quite look the part Wednesday a day ahead of the start of the Australian PGA Championship, hanging around the front of the clubhouse barefoot, in a T-shirt and shorts.

“Just on my way back from the gym – honest,” Lonard said. “I’m not playing the pro-am till the afternoon, so thought I’d better get serious about a workout.”

Lonard has won the Australian PGA title at Coolum three times in the last six years – sharing the championship with Australian countryman Jarrod Moseley in 2002 when darkness ended a playoff, in 2004 and again last year – all of them on the par-72 Hyatt Regency resort course on Queensland state’s Sunshine Coast.

Why he plays so well here is a mystery to him – considering his lack of preparation.

“It’s just a pretty relaxed sort of atmosphere,” Lonard said. “It’s a great place to stay and I usually have a few friends hanging around. I probably do everything wrong – I barely go to the gym, I eat pizza, drink beer and don’t really think much about golf. Maybe I should do that all year.”

The 41-year-old Lonard’s only win on the U.S. PGA tour came at the 2005 MCI Heritage, and his best finish this year was second at the Zurich Classic at New Orleans. Last year, a final-round 65 gave Lonard the win at Coolum, his ninth in Australia.

Lonard and a field that includes American John Daly, South African Tim Clark, Robert Allenby and last week’s Australian Masters champion Rod Pampling will find a vastly different course when play begins Thursday. Recent heavy rainfall has left the greens slower than usual, fairways with less run and the creeks full.

“With the rain we’ve had and the washouts, on 4, 5, 7, 8, there is water right to the edge,” Pampling said. “You can be as aggressive as you like with this course, but be prepared to drop shots if you don’t hit the fairways.”

Allenby nearly joined his compatriot Adam Scott – who withdrew Monday because of a surfing-related right knee injury – on the sidelines this week. Allenby, who was in contention at the Masters at Huntingdale last week until a late double-bogey, considered staying at home with his ailing mother, Sylvia, who has stopped all treatment for lung and kidney cancer.

“I didn’t think I was ready, mentally and emotionally, to play this week,” Allenby said Wednesday. “But I spoke to my mom on Tuesday morning and she said: ‘I’d love you to win the tournament, but if you don’t, don’t worry about it.”‘

“It’s a pretty tough time for all of us. We’re a close family, I’m the youngest of four and we’ve never had to go through this before. We know what’s going to happen …”

Daly is making his first appearance at Coolum since 2002, when he threw his putter and ball into the pond on the 18th hole after his second round. He was later disqualified for not signing his scorecard.

The 42-year-old Daly missed the cut at last week’s Australian Masters but had a final-round 62 at the Hong Kong Open and tied for 17th the week before. He’s also playing next week’s Australian Open at Royal Sydney.

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