Scott Gardiner.
Scott Gardiner. Barry Leddicoat

Aussies tee off against the best

TWEED-raised golfer Scott Gardiner is among a host of Australians who would much rather be at this week’s Australian Open in Sydney, teeing it up alongside Adam Scott, Greg Norman, Fred Couples and company at The Lakes.

Instead, he’ll be among 18 compatriots grinding it out over six rounds at the nerve-wracking and potentially soul-destroying US PGA Tour qualifying tournament in central Florida.

The Q school, as it is known, is really a job interview for professional golfers, where the best 25 secure full-time work next year.

Gardiner became Australia’s heartbreak golfer when he was pipped from joining the USPGA Tour by just one position and less than $3000 in prizemoney.

The 34-year-old had twice previously gone close to promotion in his six years on the secondary Nationwide Tour but never as close as his 2010 campaign.

With the top 25 on the season money list earning Tour cards for 2011, Gardiner went into the season-ending Tour Championship in 22nd spot and gritted it out to shoot a one-under 287. But his tie for 24th in the tournament saw him drop to 26th on the money list.

However, he has one last shot at securing his card this week.

Mathew Goggin, Peter Lonard and Cameron Percy are among the better-known Australians in the field, along with the likes of Terry Pilkadaris, James Nitties, Gavin Coles, Jarrod Lyle and Won Jon Lee.

Goggin two years ago lost a play-off to Tim Clark at the Australian Open and last year nearly won the British Open, finishing only two strokes back.

But golf can be a fickle game and now he finds himself battling for his professional future after a lean season.

The Tasmanian finished 159th on the money list, although he made the cut in his final five starts, which suggests he is back on track.

Lonard, meanwhile, is trying to regain his exempt status after missing most of the year while recovering from knee and hip surgery.

Cameron Percy is one of the luckier ones in the field.

He finished 144th on the money list this year so he will have some exempt status on tour in 2011 – probably good for at least 15 starts – even if he falls short this week.

Percy brings good form into this week. Last month he was part of a three-way play-off in in the US tour event in Las Vegas where American Jonathan Bryd won with a hole-in-one at the fourth extra hole. While disappointed not to win, Percy received a very nice consolation prize of $US378,400.

The qualifying tournament will be held on two courses at Orange County National and both are playing extremely long, due to the American obsession with over-watering.

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