IN THE HUNT: Boo Weekley on the 15th hole at Royal Pines on Thursday. Picture: Getty Images
THERE will be a few nervous deer in the south of the United States given Boo Weekley is heading home soon.
It seems the field at the Australian PGA Championship on the Gold Coast should also be worried about being outgunned by the American.
The keen huntsman and three-time US PGA Tour winner tops the leaderboard following a rain-affected opening round at Royal Pines on Thursday.
Weekley’s six-under-par 66 ensured he will take a two-shot lead into Friday, ahead of a group of six players on four-under, including defending champion Adam Scott.
The American’s month-long stay in Australia has included equal 15th place finishes at the Australian Masters and Australian Open and, famously, an estimated 40 meat pies.
The 41-year-old tucked into the revamped Royal Pines course like one of those savoury treats, making five birdies, a bogey and an eagle on the par-four 17th.
That eagle was the highlight of his day.
‘‘I had 146 [yards] into the hole, was kind of in between clubs and I just figured I had a breeze a little bit into us … took an eight-iron and choked it down a little bit,’’ he said.
‘‘As soon as I got up in the air, got flying towards it and I like ‘get right, be right’ and then one hop and it went in the hole.’’
Weekley is planning to ditch the clubs for his rifle when he gets home next week.
Landing a trophy buck will be on his Christmas wish-list, though having the Joe Kirkwood Cup on his mantelpiece would also be a welcome addition.
Scott also made eagle on Thursday, at the par-five 15th, and was happy to notch the first under-par first round of his Australian swing.
● Toronto’s Nathan Green was one of the lucky few to complete his first round.
After bogeying two of his first three holes, the former US PGA card-holder completed a steady of round of six birdies and just one more bogey on the back nine to finish with three-under 69.
Jake Higginbottom’s round of six birdies was marred by double bogeys on the seventh and 14th and another dropped shot on the 10th, which left the Charlestown product at one-under.
It was a miserable start for Charlestown’s US-based professional James Nitties, who was left on two-over after a storm halted play.
The other Hunter golfer to complete the first round was Belmont’s Corey Hale at one-over.
The Vintage’s Edward Stedman is two-under through six holes, Charlestown’s Aaron Townsend is even par after 12, Waratah’s Leigh McKechnie (one-over) has nine holes to play on Friday and Toronto’s Callan O’Reilly is one over with 10 holes left.
MOTIVATED: Former professional Allira Richardson has rediscovered her passion for surf lifesaving. Picture: Max Mason-HubersDRAINED mentally and physically, Allira Richardson walked away from surf lifesaving after almost a decade on the professional ironwoman circuit.
Eighteen months on and the 27-year-old from Forster is inspired in the surf again after her work with the juniors at Cooks Hill.
This weekend, she hopes to return the favour.
Richardson and two-time Australian board paddling champion Stewart McLachlan (Redhead) will lead the Hunter team at the NSW Interbranch titles at Catherine Hill Bay.
Richardson, a former Australian board champion and round winner on the national ironwoman series, will join ex-national youth team competitor Jessica Collins (Redhead) and Hannah Trypas (Swansea-Belmont) in the women’s open line-up.
Coolangatta Gold fifth-placegetter Isak Costello and ski specialist Mark Stowe join Redhead clubmate McLachlan as the open men representatives.
They will spearhead a 42-member Hunter side covering under 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 19 divisions.
For Richardson, the carnival is part of a long road back to competition.
The former Mooloolaba and Maroochydore competitor went home to Forster early last year after finishing 13th in the 2012-13 national series and missing automatic requalification.
After resting shoulder and knee injuries, she moved to Newcastle in February to link with former coach Wayne Whiteman, the director of surf sports at Cooks Hill, and has been working as an assistant nippers coach at the club while starting a veterinary nursing degree.
Refreshed and fit again, Richardson says the move is paying off.
‘‘The Cooks Hill kids are all so dedicated and so welcoming, so it’s been such an easy transition,’’ she said.
‘‘I had some injuries that I needed a long time off to get over, and just mentally, I was just over it a bit. I was a little bit drained and just needed a break, physically and mentally.
‘‘So I moved back home and started coaching, and just working with the kids gave me motivation again.
‘‘I started back just this year but it’s been one of the best decision I’ve made, just coming back and enjoying the sport. I’m just enjoying being back in it and just being fit and healthy more than anything else.’’
After a pre-season setback with bronchitis, Richardson showed she will be a force this summer with an ironwoman win at the Cronulla carnival three weeks ago.
She is hoping to continue that form and lead the way for the Hunter youngsters this weekend.
‘‘I love the kids that I train with and working with them has been inspiring,’’ she said.
‘‘I just really like it, especially being in a team environment. I just hope I set a good standard and I’m a good role model.
‘‘Hopefully I can do everything right, compete to the best of my ability, the results go my way and I can inspire the kids somehow.’’
Richardson and Hunter assistant coach Craig Coates believe the juniors will be the team’s strength this weekend when they try to break a run of fourth-place finishes behind the powerful Sydney branches and Central Coast.
‘‘They give 100per cent in training and I think the Hunter kids are going to cause some surprises,’’ Richardson said.
‘‘We are going in there pretty hard to finally get that podium finish.
‘‘We’ve finished fourth so many years in a row now and to actually knock off one of the Sydney clubs would be unreal.’’
Coates said the forecast of 3.5m to 4m swell from east-south-east could force organisers to switch venues from Catherine Hill Bay to Blacksmiths Beach and a decision on the site would likely be made on Friday.
Kill the body and the head will fall. That is the approach Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold is taking to nullify Melbourne Victory marquee Besart Berisha on Saturday night.
There are dangerous players in every team, some who require special attention, man-marking or even a specialist tagger for 90 minutes. When it comes to Berisha, Arnold believes even these tactics won’t help.
So potent is the Albanian striker once the ball is at his feet that there is little defenders can do from preventing a scoring chance, something even Manchester United can attest to.
Sydney FC boast the most lean defence in the league and have built a reputation of their own when it comes to intimidation, but even they aren’t taking any risks against the lively Berisha in his new backyard.
Arnold was full of praise for a player who scored his sixth goal in eight games last week, playing on a cricket pitch amid a storm against Central Coast, and said his best chance of stopping Berisha was to starve him of possession. Sydney won’t deploy any special tactics directly towards him, but will instead focus on shutting down the creative players around him so as to cut off supply to the danger man.
“Look, he’s a fantastic player, I said it before, we saw the energy that he gave Brisbane when he was at Brisbane and what he did up there with the goals he was scoring and his energy is now rubbing off on Melbourne Victory players,” Arnold said.
“We just have to try and make sure we cut off the supply to him. Defensively we have to be very, very strong and give nothing away. We’ve analysed them this week and hopefully I can expose a few of their weaknesses that I’ve seen with where we can be strong. It will be a matter of just going down there and sticking to the game plan, and also being ready for the fight.”
The Sky Blues travel to Melbourne after suffering their first loss of the season in a 2-1 defeat to Perth Glory last week but will be buoyed by the return of their own marquee, Marc Janko. The Austrian captain overcame a niggling injury and has been declared fit to play against the club’s oldest rivals. Defender Sasa Ognenovski, who has a thigh injury, appears no closer to a return.
A nine-day break gave Sydney plenty of chance to reflect on their loss to Perth but Arnold says their confidence has not been hit.
“After analysing the game, it was probably our most consistent performance for 80 minutes but unfortunately we gave away two cheap goals from set-pieces,” he said.
The Sydney coach has been overwhelmed with offers to sign players from abroad, now that he has two spots available as injury replacement covers for Ali Abbas and Corey Gameiro. Arnold is looking at foreign players, but says he is interested in signing one who will improve the standard of the first team, not their depth.
“I want competition for places, we’ve lost two starting eleven members with Corey and Ali Abbas, and we’ve got to have depth in the squad but I’m not going to bring out somebody to sit on the bench or somebody to put depth in the squad,” he said. “I want quality, otherwise I want to give Australian kids an opportunity.”
The Australian dollar edged slightly higher on Thursday, after a US dollar sell-off and mildly positive domestic employment data afforded the local unit a day of respite from recent declines.
However, divergent economic fortunes continued to fuel a slide in the local unit against its New Zealand pair.
In late local trade, the Aussie was fetching US83.25¢, compared with US83.15¢ at the same time on Wednesday. The currency did hit a high of US83.76¢ just after the November jobs data release, but retreated after closer inspection revealed worrying trends in youth unemployment and under-employment.
The dominance of part-time work in job creation also points to further hits to household income, according to analysis by Morgan Stanley.
“Although unemployment growth is running at 0.7 per cent a month on a three-month annualised basis, hours worked are again falling, reflecting a mix shift from full- to part-time work,” the investment bank said in a note.
Even still, most commentators said there was nothing in the data to support calls for cuts in the Reserve Bank of Australia’s cash rate next year, although some maintain that they point to further economic weakening next year.
In contrast, central bank language on future rate rises in New Zealand on Thursday helped drive the Aussie to its lowest level against the Kiwi dollar in five months.
In late local trade, the Australian dollar was fetching $NZ1.07, compared with $NZ1.08 at the same time on Wednesday, and a year-to-date high of $NZ1.13 at the end of October. In early trade it touched $NZ1.06
The Kiwi currency was last this strong against its trans-Tasman pair in mid-July.
The latest surge came after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand left the official cash rate unchanged at 3.5 per cent for the third policy meeting in a row, as expected, but accompanied the decision with less dovish language than forecast among some sectors of the financial community.
While acknowledging that further hikes would be “required at a later stage”, the RBNZ also said that the “expansion can be sustained for longer than previously expected with a more gradual increase in interest rates”, given subdued inflationary pressures.
Bank of New Zealand currency strategist Raiko Shareef said currency traders had been pricing in an end to tighter monetary policy, while credit markets had better anticipated RBNZ guidance.
“The rates markets had the most sensible reaction, in my mind, to what happened, which is essentially that the RBNZ lowered its expected future path of interest rates, as one would expect given the developments we’ve had in global inflation over the past three months or so,” he said.
“So the rates market actually rallied a little bit, which is what you would have expected. In contrast, he said, foreign exchange traders had expected guidance on an end to monetary tightening from the RBNZ.
“There was some speculation that the bank might go completely soft on rates and say, ‘right, we’re done’,” said Mr Shareef.
“That was the bit that didn’t happen, and that probably disappointed some in the speculative community which expected a much sharper sell-off.”
The RBNZ’s continued tightening bias runs counter to that of the RBA, which a growing band of economists expect to cut interest rates next year. At the very least, according to less bearish commentators, the cash rate will stay on hold until late next year or early 2016.
ANZ currency strategist Sam Tuck said the distinct policy directions reflected divergent economies.
“The RBNZ is still expecting a rate hike; they see growth on or above trend through 2016, compared with the market pricing in a full rate cut by the RBA,” he said. “A lot of people had been expecting a convergence in the outlook between Australia and New Zealand, and there was reasonable amount of positioning on that view which has been cleaned out,” he said.
SHARPENING UP: Kirsty Formosa with Ultimate Art. TWO-TIME group1 winner Ultimate Art will complete a strange hat-trick if he can again win first-up from a spell at Menangle on Saturday night.
The Michael Formosa-trained five-year-old stallion’s last run was a 12th in the group3 Four-Year-Old Championship on July 19, which came three weeks after his group1 NSW Breeders Crown win.
Ultimate Art will resume in race four at Menangle with Jack Trainor taking the reins in place of Formosa, who is serving a 21-day driving suspension for causing interference in the only race held at Newcastle last Friday.
It will be the third year in a row the Ellalong-based trainer has been suspended for his star pacer’s December return to the track, and Formosa will be hoping for the same result.
Ultimate Art won at Maitland in 2012 and at Newcastle last year first-up with Mark Callaghan and Robbie Morris respectively in the gig.
Formosa, though, was cautiously optimistic about Ultimate Art’s hopes on Saturday night as he builds him towards a shot at the Interdominion heats in February.
‘‘He’s probably going to need the run but he won’t be far off it,’’ Formosa said.
‘‘He’s come back good. He’s had three trials and done only what he’s wanted to do.
‘‘He was only really pushed in one of them and he’s come through well.
‘‘His best distance is over a bit of ground and 80per cent of the races at Menangle are over the mile, so he’s probably going to need a few mile races to sharpen him up, but he’ll come good.’’
Ultimate Art will meet Hunter-trained Shannonsablast (Darren Elder) and Aspiring Art (Shane Tritton) in the race.
■ Michael Formosa was one of the many trainers to shy away from entering a horse in the Newcastle Cup after the significant drop in prizemoney this year.
The cup, first held in 1954, was scheduled for Friday night but was postponed after receiving only six nominations.
‘‘I was actually aiming Ultimate Art for it, then about a month ago they said the prizemoney was going from $30,000 to $8000, so I didn’t bother about it,’’ Formosa said.
‘‘I’ve always wanted to win a Newcastle Cup and I thought I had the horse to do it, but anyway, that’s the way it goes.’’
Ultimate Art will race for $12,000 at Menangle on Saturday night.
Formosa will still have a strong team in at the eight-race Newcastle meeting.
He rated Sovereign Flight in race six and Miss Art Ranger in the first as his best chances.
He also has Mondo Courage in the first and Always Prompt and Constant Addiction in the race four.
Formosa said Always Prompt, which has won his last two starts at Newcastle, was ‘‘a dangerous little horse with the right run’’ and ‘‘a good place chance’’.
■ Shane Tritton-trained runners made up one-tenth of a record 150 nominations this week for next year’s Interdominion championships.
Tritton nominated 2014 sixth-placegetter Mach Beauty and Miracle Mile runners Suave Stuey Lombo and Easy On The Eye among 15 of his horses for qualifying heats on February 14.
Ardghal, Aspiring Artist, Chance, Fearless Leader, Latteron, Lombo Toscannini, Mark Dennis, Marty Monkhouser, Pas Ultimate Delight, Rathmore Lady, Saucy Legend and Shipwreck are the Keinbah trainer’s other hopefuls.
Heats will be held at Menangle, Addington, Melton, Albion Park and Gloucester Park for the grand final on Sunday, March 1, at Menangle.
Michael Formosa’s Ultimate Art is the only other local among nominations.
Suave Stuey Lombo was the shortest of the Hunter hopes in the opening TAB Sportsbet fixed odds market at $14.
Easy On The Eye and Mach Beauty were $21, while the others were $151 or $301.