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Australian Open starts troubled tour

Champion Peter Lonard begins his quest for a third successive Australian Open title on Thursday amid concerns of the future of the Australasian tour.

The tour has been unable to attract high-profile overseas players in recent years due to the lucrative and burgeoning Asian tour and extension of the PGA Tour and has shrunk to just six sanctioned tournaments.

Such is the concern, the Australasian PGA Tour held a meeting with several top players on Wednesday to discuss potential solutions.

While the Tour has failed to attract top international players, world number eight Adam Scott and Aaron Baddeley, who won back-to-back Australian Opens in 1999 and 2000, will play the first two rounds on the par-72 Peter Thomson-designed 6,829m course at Moonah Links together.

Both said they were concerned for the Tour's future.

"When you are away, you are a little nervous when you hear that the national championship could not get a title sponsor," Baddeley said on Tuesday in reference to the tournament acquiring a title sponsor only last month.

"It is weird because there are so many great players coming out of Australia. Then the tour is not doing that well. It's frustrating."

Scott, however, said the Australasian circuit was "hardly a tour".

"We have to figure out what we can do, whether it is co-sanctioning or trying to build other events, get back the events we have lost," the 25-year-old said.

"I really don't know what the answer is."

Lonard, however, said he was just as committed to the tournament and Tour as ever.

"It doesn't weigh on me that it's another Australian Open," Lonard told reporters on Wednesday. "I don't know how many I've played in my career, probably 10 or 15 Australian Opens, so it's just the same as any other tournament, within reason.

"You know, obviously three in a row would be very nice as it doesn't happen often but we'll just have to see what happens.

"All the Australian tournaments rank highly in my schedule. I think since I started playing golf again in '97 or '96, I don't think I've missed any except when I had a broken rib.

"I think just the fact that I've played them all suggests that they're high in my calendar."

November 24, 2005

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