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Appleby predicts high scores in Melbourne

Organisers of this week's Australian Open are hoping good golf in trying conditions at the formidable Moonah Links course will help erase the memory of last year's controversial 54-hole event.

Former winners Stuart Appleby and Aaron Baddeley say the players will struggle to break par in the hot summer winds, choking rough and 77 bunkers on the new 6,829-metre, par-72 course at Rye, a 90-minute drive south of Melbourne.

"The biggest problem is the course is entirely new to the players. If the wind changes, it (the winner) is going to be the guy who guesses best," Australia's world number 14 Appleby told reporters on Wednesday.

"I don't think anyone will get under par," added Appleby, the 2001 Australian Open champion and the highest ranked player in this week's field.

The Australian Golf Union (AGU) abandoned the opening round of last year's event and started again the following day because of the rock-hard greens at Melbourne's Victoria Golf Club.

Former U.S. PGA winner Rich Beem labelled Australia the laughing stock of world golf. Beem eventually finished one stroke behind winner Steve Allan.

Players complained during the first round they were unable to keep the ball on the third green after hitting it past the pin and watching it roll back off the front.

Several big names, including Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Greg Norman, Arnold Palmer and Peter Thomson, have won the Australian Open, which was first played in 1904.

However, the event is no longer able to regularly attract top-10 players. The field for this week's A$1.5 million (US$1.1 million) tournament includes locals such as Appleby and world number 16 Robert Allenby.

The AGU announced in September they had moved the Australian Open from late November to mid-December because of a scheduling clash with the Davis Cup tennis final in Melbourne, which was also televised nationally by Channel Seven.

This also allowed top golfers including Allenby, who won the Australian Masters earlier this month, to play in the Australian Open, which had previously clashed with the lucrative Sun City Challenge in South Africa in late November.

Melbourne's The Age newspaper joked this week of the Moonah Links course, designed by five-times British Open winner Thomson: "The 77 bunkers are so deep that had Saddam Hussein chosen to hide in one, he would still be at large".

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