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New sponsor found for Australian Open

The Australian Open has received an 11th hour boost in the form of a three-year naming rights sponsor and the near certainty that the country's top-ranked player, Adam Scott, will tee up.

Australian Golf Union (AGU) chief Colin Phillips said Scott had told him he was "99 per cent" sure he would play at Moonah Links next month, and that he was expected to confirm his appearance shortly.

The AGU and partner IMG were forced to come up with a new scheme to lure a major sponsor in a fiercely competitive market.

Under the arrangement MFS, a financial fund manager with interests in tourism and property, will offer tailored investment packages for golf clubs and golfers.

MFS will provide naming rights sponsorship to the national championship for the next three years.

The Open had lost previous sponsor Hillross and the AGU as recently as last month was faced with the prospect of having to underwrite the cost of the tournament itself.

"There was certainly some pressure but we had committed to run the Open at the same level as we had in the past," Phillips said today.

"But obviously the AGU couldn't keep running it indefinitely at that level without a major sponsor."

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However, it appears golf fans are going to have to do without big-name international players at the Open.

The reluctance of Americans to leave the surrounds of their multi-million-dollar weekly events, and competition for superstar players from cashed-up Asian tournaments, has left the dwindling Australian tour isolated.

"The only way we can move forward is by encouraging our own players to play," Phillips said, confirming that appearance money would not be paid to lure star names.

"They have accepted the situation that there will be no appearance money and we intend to stick to that."

Phillips was confident Scott would play at Moonah Links from November 24-27 after missing the past two Opens.

"I genuinely think he wants to play this year," Phillips said.

"I don't think his presence is all that crucial but it is something we would like to happen."

Peter Lonard, targeting a third consecutive Open title, will be joined at Moonah Links by former champions including Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley.

Fellow US Tour players Mark Hensby, ranked No.30 in the world, Nick O'Hern (No.35) and Rod Pampling (No.47) will be chasing their first Open win.

Lonard, the world No.40, won his first US Tour event this year at the MCI Heritage after switching to a short putter from his customary long-handled putter before the event.

Appleby, ranked No.31 in the world, won the Open at The Grand in Queensland in 2001, and has claimed six events in the US, including the past two season-opening Mercedes Championships in Hawaii.

Hensby, who played in the recent Presidents Cup, won his maiden US Tour title at the John Deere Classic last year, and took his first European Tour win this year with a play-off victory in the Scandinavian Masters.

October 19, 2005

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