Bentley drives for national approach

THE rise of "Baghdad" Bob Bentley to chairman of the Australian Racing Board was the best news to come out of a week that promises to lead to massive and, in most instances, necessary change to the industry. Bentley was the prime mover in the coming unification of Brisbane’s "Gaza Strip", the Queensland Turf Club and Brisbane Turf Club. Under his guidance Queensland racing is much better run than that of NSW. Saturday race fields are one example. "If Australian racing can become truly national in every sense then we can succeed," Bentley commented. "That includes calendar dates, programming rules, handicapping, stewards and every other aspect." Being a mover and shaker, Bentley has critics. Gaza is one achievement but he’ll find nationalising other states, particularly Victoria, more like Afghanistan.

POTENTIAL WON’T PAY: Racing, like life, is about compromise, thus the sharing of Easter Saturday between Randwick and Rosehill over the next four years is acceptable. Yes, Rosehill on Easter Saturday just won’t be the same as Randwick but the Australian Jockey Club didn’t put up a strong enough argument to retain it. Events NSW was a major player in the switch, and has the "potential to provide a promotional package of up to $10 million over four years". Potential? Government-department "potential" is about as useful as a tinker’s curse, although more valuable than a politician’s promise. Remember the link jackpots from poker machines that were supposed to come to racing when the TAB was privatised?

NO GO FOR JOE: Obviously conflict of interest didn’t come into play for the selection of the new Racing NSW board. For instance, Arthur Inglis is a major player behind the bloodstock company William Inglis & Son. No concern at all from this quarter, however. He comes with the right pedigree being closely related to old John, one of the true gentlemen of the turf, and Reg, who made a major contribution to the industry when an AJC committeeman. My only query with the new line-up is Ken Brown, AM, a renowned good bloke. He comes from the office of gaming and racing at a time when the industry has fallen into decline like never before. Kim Harding and Alan Brown were shoo-ins and the form of Alan Bell reads well: veterinarian, connected with Paul Sutherland in his best seasons, trainer, owner and breeder. Bell could well give a voice to the bush despite long ago leaving behind his RM Williams gear for some of the best tailoring seen outside of Milan. However, one disappointing aspect is that Joseph Crepaldi, a specialist in corporate and business strategy, who the previous selectors felt was the No.1 choice, didn’t bother to stand. Good judges reckon he had much to offer.

FAIR CRACK: Wonder whether those who backed Testimonial in the last at Rosehill on Saturday would have preferred Josh Parr had his whip over the latter stages? Parr dropped it at the 200m and went down by a half-length. Changes to whip rules coming up are an over-reaction. Surely thoroughbreds, the most pampered athletes, human or equine, are entitled to be given some encouragement. Rules are already in place to discourage flogging. "I’ve been examining horses over decades, going back before Mick Dittman was at his peak, and have only had to treat a horse once due to whip abuse," one of Sydney’s best known vets related on Saturday. "It was caused by a lady jockey."

Dittman was effective and never marked even the thinnest-skinned horse. To modify his style would have been an impertinence.

BOLGER BLUSTER: "The way Aidan [O’Brien] was treated down there was disgusting," Jim Bolger, the Irish trainer and blow-hard, told The Sunday Age . "There are a lot of people who should feel ashamed."

Of course, the 90-minute grilling that poor O’Brien had to endure over the appalling performances of his three horses in the Melbourne Cup because of dumb riding tactics brought the Bolger retort: "I suppose that’s what happens when you get professional stewards. People just have to justify their positions."

The long inquiry, however, was down to O’Brien. He wouldn’t shut up.

HORSE TO FOLLOW: Light Fantastic has returned to the Caulfield stable of Mick Price after being pre-trained at Rockmount in the Strathbogie Ranges north-east of Melbourne. Hopefully, he has recovered from stomach ulcers that plagued his form in the early spring.

DISAPPOINTING: John Messara , who has a superior knowledge of the problems of racing in this state, withdrew from the recently appointed Racing NSW board. Why?

Tiger chief says club is in dark over Cousins cash offer

RICHMOND president Gary March says the Tigers have not had any talks about a sponsorship offer that is conditional on the club reviving the AFL career of Ben Cousins.

It was reported yesterday that wealthy Melbourne restaurateur Frank Dimattina, who played for the club in the 1960s, had committed to giving Richmond up to $300,000 if it recruited the 30-year-old in tomorrow’s pre-season draft.

But March said he and the club’s directors "haven’t heard anything" about the apparent offer to bankroll the addition of Cousins, the 2005 Brownlow medallist, to its playing list.

"We haven’t spoken to anyone from the Dimattinas," he said yesterday.

Opposition from sponsors about the recruitment of Cousins, a recovering drug addict, has been cited as a factor in why at least two other AFL clubs, St Kilda and the Brisbane Lions, abandoned plans to draft him.

March would not say whether the opposite scenario — a sponsor lobbying for the recruitment of a specific player — could influence the club’s recruitment strategy.

"We’re talking all hypotheticals with this whole situation," he said. "As I said on Friday we’re waiting for the outcome of the decision from the (AFL) commission, so we’ve really got nothing more to say until they make their decision."

The AFL Commission will decide today whether to allow Richmond to shift tram accident victim Graham Polak onto its rookie list for next season, even though he does not fall within the list’s eligibility criteria.

Cousins’ potential recruitment hinges on Richmond receiving approval, which would allow the club to select two players, instead of one, in the pre-season draft.

"We’ve already publicly stated that we’re taking a young player with our first pick," March said.

"That decision’s already been made — I’m not sure how many more times we need to say it."

The AFL last week wrote to all clubs to gauge their views on Richmond’s request, which the Tigers justified on the basis Polak was "still undertaking extensive rehabilitation after suffering an acquired brain injury". Fremantle and Collingwood have expressed opposition to the request.

■ If the first-round pre-season cup match between West Coast and Collingwood in Cape Town is scrapped because of the global financial crisis, the game will be played in Melbourne or Perth on February 7.

The AFL is speaking to several companies to muster financial support to save the Cape Town match after sponsor NAB said at the weekend that it had abandoned plans to host hospitality packages.

Beadman gives Cat a kick

FORMER Sydney dominator and now Hong Kong hero Darren Beadman upstaged Australian sprinter of the year Apache Cat when scoring a knockout win in yesterday’s $HK12 million ($2.36m) HK Sprint at Sha Tin.

While odds-on favourite Apache Cat, ridden by Corey Brown and trained by Victoria-based Greg Eurell, rallied late to run a close-up third, it was left to Beadman and Hong Kong’s leading trainer John Moore, also an Australian, to win the sprint with Inspiration.

An outsider at $67, Inspiration was only included in the sprint late by Moore, who quipped: "I only put him in here for the run. But today Darren’s given him the best ride of the century and he’s pulled it off."

Apache Cat ($1.90) bounced into the box seat trailing the speed early and Brown eased him around into the clear on straightening.

"I had to change course when the winner came across me but he [Apache Cat] was going through that flat spot he always has at the time," Brown said of the half-length defeat. "There was a bit of interference caused but I don’t think it cost me the race.

"I thought he ran very well and he had every chance."

Eurell said the only disappointment he had was that Apache Cat "had to get rolling again" when Inspiration and eventual runner-up Green Birdie were hitting the line full of momentum. "With a clear run it would have been a bit more interesting," Eurell said.

The trainer said the fact Apache Cat was taking time to "work through his gears" might indicate "he could have been looking for 1400m". "By the time he’d hit his top the others had already hit theirs," he said. "But the way he blended into the run he still had every opportunity to win."

Beadman said he was happy and "smoking my pipe" when tracking Apache Cat into the race and when he was travelling so easily nearing the turn he thought an upset was on the cards. "I didn’t think he’d sprint as good as he did but once I peeled off the back of Apache Cat he let down really well," Beadman said.

"He kept going strongly and he’s a deserving winner. I knew I was on a horse that was fit and well. John has kept him very fresh and couldn’t have had him any better."

Beadman is the retained rider in Hong Kong for Moore with the pair enjoying a fantastic season in which Moore is the runaway premiership leader and Beadman is second in the jockeys’ standings behind South African Douglas Whyte. "I wasn’t expecting this, I can assure you," Moore said of Inspiration’s victory.

Apache Cat will head home to Victoria in the coming weeks but Eurell said that given his showing in Hong Kong more international sojourns were likely. "The way he has handled this trip I will seriously have to look at others with him now," Eurell said. "There are a couple of nice sprints back home for him in the autumn but all going well we will look at Singapore [KrisFlyer Sprint] and then Royal Ascot [King’s Stand Stakes and Golden Jubilee] with him."

Former world champion sprinter Takeover Target, which defeated Apache Cat in the Winterbottom Stakes in Perth two weeks ago before winning the Scahill Stakes there at the weekend, has enjoyed previous success both in Singapore and Royal Ascot in the UK, as well as Japan.

Apache Cat had won five straight group 1 races last season which ensured he won the Australian sprinter-of-the-year award but when he resumed in the Patinack Farm Classic at Flemington during the Melbourne Cup carnival he ran the worst race of his career when unplaced behind Swick.

"The main thing is we have got him back from that unexplained performance," Eurell said. "I drove home after that Flemington run and certainly didn’t think I’d be standing here today in Hong Kong with him. While he hasn’t won he has still run extremely well and I’m very proud of the horse."

Munce gets the monkey off his back with winning double

COMEBACK jockey Chris Munce has returned to the winner’s circle just days after resuming his racing career following 20 months in prison.

The Melbourne Cup-, Golden Slipper- and Cox Plate-winning jockey scored a winning double at yesterday’s Hawkesbury meeting.

Munce fronted at Hawkesbury for four rides, and after finishing second on Shrewd Princess in the opening event, steered the Mitchell Hudson-trained Swiftus home to a comfortable victory in the second. Munce later scored on trainer Steve Englebrecht’s galloper War Council.

"It was terrific," Munce said, revealing wife Cathy and their three children were at the track. "The crowd was fantastic when I came back in. They cheered, clapped, carried on."

Munce, who has picked up the ride on form galloper Something Anything in Saturday’s Villiers Stakes at Randwick, is more than happy with his return, which started at Randwick last Friday with three rides.

At Rosehill on Saturday, he had five rides, finishing third on Lioncub and second on Talaana, prompting the jockey to lodge a protest against the winner Jimmy Fortunes, which stewards dismissed quickly.

"I’m giving my horses every chance, and the more I ride, the better I’ll be. It’ll come with time," Munce said. "I’ve ridden for three days in a row. I’ve pulled up great each time, and each ride I’m getting better. It is just finetuning; you’ve always got to finetune your performance.

"If I was coming back from injury, wasting hard, holding back, it would take longer but because I’m fit and well it’ll come quicker."

Munce has a busy schedule this week with trials at Hawkesbury this morning, Randwick tomorrow, Wyong races on Wednesday, Canterbury on Thursday night, trials again at Randwick on Friday before fronting up for the Villiers meeting on Saturday. "Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’ve just got to keep my performance up to scratch," Munce said.

Last year, he was sentenced to 30 months in jail for his part in Hong Kong’s "tips for bets" bribery scandal. The term was reduced to 20 months due to good behaviour with Munce serving the first seven months in a Hong Kong prison and the remainder at Sydney’s Silverwater jail.

Munce’s return to the saddle continues to be surrounded by controversy due to the Hong Kong Jockey Club stewards charging him with 36 breaches of the rules a fortnight ago. He pleaded guilty and did not appeal, with HKJC stewards disqualifying him until September next year.

Two days after the HKJC decision, Munce fronted a show cause hearing at the offices of Racing NSW and was granted a licence to ride in this state. The decision enraged the HKJC, which continues to rant and rave about Racing NSW ostracising itself due to failing to uphold reciprocal agreements on penalties.

Takeover Target’s stay in Perth is over, with trainer Joe Janiak ordering a spell for the remarkable sprinter. The veteran galloper toyed with rivals to win the Scahill Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, a fortnight after defeating Apache Cat in the Winterbottom Stakes.

Perth stewards reported afterwards that Takeover Target had pulled up slightly lame in the near foreleg.

Rough ride in cup takes off the gloss

WHAT threatened to be one of the best days of champion jockey Darren Beadman’s career turned into disaster at Sha Tin when hot favourite Viva Pataca was beaten out of a place in the $HK20 million ($3.93m) Hong Kong Cup.

Beadman was shooting for a treble for Australian trainer John Moore having had earlier wins on stablemates Inspiration in the $HK12m Hong Kong Sprint and Craig’s Dragon (Paris Handicap). Viva Pataca started at $1.30 on the Hong Kong tote but failed to get any clear running until late in the straight, being continually checked from before turning for home, and finishing fourth. "I got absolutely smashed," Beadman said. "But what can you do, you can’t go over the top of them."

Leading jockey Douglas Whyte, who rode Sight Winner in the event, said it was "the dirtiest race I’ve ever ridden in" while Australian Brett Prebble, who was on Hawkes Bay, was also scathing in his comments.

"It was the worst race I’ve ever ridden in," said Prebble, referring to the interference. "It made the Golden Slipper [which has been known to be rough] look like a picnic race."

Beadman attempted to track eventual winner Eagle Mountain into the race approaching the turn and when that manoeuvre failed to come off Viva Pataca’s chances were dashed. HKJC stewards opened an inquiry into the interference, with visiting jockey Christophe Soumillon questioned over his ride on Bullish Luck, which was racing outside Viva Pataca when Beadman initially attempted to track Eagle Mountain. Eagle Mountain has a South African combination of trainer Mike De Kock and jockey Kevin Shea while it is owned by Sheik Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum.

Shea said he was aware it was "a rough race", adding: "There was interference in front of me and behind me. I could hear the other jockeys screaming out. I just made sure I stayed out of trouble and then I set him alight with 300m to go and he found another gear. He is a special horse."

De Kock won the Sheema Classic in Dubai earlier this year with Sun Classique, while he also brought Archipenko to Hong Kong in April to win the QEII Cup in which Viva Pataca ran third. "We thought Eagle Mountain was going even better than Sun Classique and Archipenko were before they won their big races so we were confident," De Kock said.

Beadman and Moore also combined for a second with Able One in the Hong Kong Mile, won for the second year running by Good Ba Ba. The jockey also rode the Danny O’Brien-trained Victorian Douro Valley into ninth in the Hong Kong Vase, in which Doctor Dino edged out 2007 Melbourne Cup runner-up Purple Moon.

Brumbies think they have Smith

GEORGE SMITH is in hot demand from French rugby clubs including Toulon but the Brumbies remain confident of retaining the superstar breakaway. ACT chief executive Andrew Fagan spoke to Smith before he left for the European tour and said the Wallabies No.7 won’t be making a decision until February. "I was neither surprised nor concerned when I heard there was interest in George from French rugby," Fagan said. "If anything, I’m surprised I didn’t hear about it earlier given his stature in the game." Smith won the RUPA player of the year award on Friday but was still on holidays in Europe. There were some suggestions he stayed to speak to Toulon, Brive and Clermont. Fagan said Smith’s decision would not only be based on money. "Some people don’t realise that it’s not all financial … it doesn’t suit some guys to just move their family overseas." The possibility of granting Smith a sabbatical similar to that of Rocky Elsom has not been discussed but Fagan said it was likely to come up in negotiations. Sonny Bill returns

Toulon’s star signing in 2008, Sonny Bill Williams , made his long-awaited return to the rugby field in the side’s 30-9 victory over Montpellier at the weekend. After spending three months on the sidelines with a leg injury, Williams played the final 20 minutes in the centres. "The leg pulled up a bit sore but I feel everything is going ahead as planned. I’m happy to be back," Williams said. Warner hits IPL jackpot

Power hitter David Warner will sign a rich deal with an IPL franchise in the next 48 hours. The NSW batsman has offers from Kolkata and Delhi, while there has been late interest from another club over the weekend. Under legislation introduced six weeks ago, franchises are allowed to sign only one non-internationally capped player before the auction in February and Kolkata has already signed Moises Henriques for $US300,000 ($456,330) a year. However, Kolkata say they started negotiations with Warner before the rule was introduced and may be able to purchase him. Other franchises are also trying to do the same with players including NSW leggie Steven Smith . If the IPL decides they’re not allowed to sign these players before the auction, the franchises will agree to make a bid for those players to the value of what they have offered, so players who have been offered these six-figure contracts are not suddenly left cashless and clubless after auction. Warner will be a very rich man by the middle of this week. Souths courting Maitua

Souths believe Reni Maitua could be the final piece of the puzzle that will catapult them into the finals next season. The Rabbitohs are pursuing Maitua after he was sacked by the Bulldogs earlier this month and club insiders say he could be used devastatingly on the flanks along with David Fa’alogo . Meanwhile, rumours that Maitua had a falling out with fellow Bra Boy John Sutton are wide of the mark. "That’s a lie," Sutton said. "I’ve spoken to him, trying to get him over to Souths. It would be good if we can get him, he is good all over the field and he has won a premiership." Stagg in their sights

Musical chairs is set to continue in light of Maitua’s axing. Broncos officials are all but resigned to losing utility David Stagg , who met Bulldogs types yesterday before flying back to Brisbane. "The Bulldogs have got a good set-up, I just have to weigh it up and make the decision that’s best for me and the family," Stagg said. The Dogs want Stagg as a replacement to Maitua and have offered him a two-year deal, while the Broncos have no room to move under the salary cap. Tah-ed and feathered

A no-holds-barred podcast talking all things Waratahs and rugby in general will be launched on Wednesday by former NSW media man Djuro Sen . Now that Sen has cut ties with the Tahs he will be able to reveal some deep and dark secrets on his new site ruggamatrix南京夜网. Among the guests on the first show will be Lote Tuqiri and Ewen McKenzie . NRL players blacklisted

NRL players have been banned from the swankiest party on New Year’s Day, the Day One event at Ivy’s model-heavy pool deck. A few players were left flummoxed when they tried to get tickets and were bluntly told that no league players would be allowed at the do. Nine’s bouncing back

Channel Nine says rumours they may go into receivership have no foundation. "Truth is Nine’s bouncing back, as reflected in every definitive ratings measurement available," a network source said. "It’s a hard road to be sure, as it is for all networks, but the joint ain’t gonna disappear." Say what?

"Perhaps I could return to save the division, if the Klitschko brothers decided to fight, I could imagine I would return to face the winner." Former heavyweight boxing king Lennox Lewis jokes after again being asked to come out of retirement to fight Vitali or Wladimir – who yesterday retained his IBF and WBO titles by stopping Hasim Rahman in seven rounds. WEEKEND WARRIOR: ADRIAN BREEN

Adrian Breen, a Drummoyne fitness trainer who sparred 99 rounds in succession on Saturday to raise money for prostate cancer. He raised nearly $4000. Why? "My dad John has prostate cancer. He had an operation three years ago and it has come back, he’s having chemotherapy at the moment. I’m just hoping he comes through it.

"You must be feeling sensational? "My body is pretty sore, my arms started cramping up in about the 34th round. I did 99 two-minute rounds with a 30-minute break after each 33 rounds. By the 76th round I started to get a bit of a headache, and with 20 to go it got really tough because you knew the end was near. I’ve got a black eye and a bruised nose but I’m OK – I’m going back to work [today]. "

Where did you get the idea? "I have always been into boxing and I’ve seen how they have fight nights for cancer fundraising. The clock in my gym only goes up to 99 rounds so I decided to fight 99 rounds. My mates have said next year they’re going to buy me a clock that reaches triple figures."

You’re not going to do it again? "Yes, this will be an annual thing, but I’m hoping to get other people involved so I won’t have to spar all 99 rounds." The hero - John Drake

The World Cup-winning All Black and respected rugby commentator died suddenly at his home in Mt Maunganui at the weekend, aged just 49. Drake, a tight-head prop, played eight Tests including the 1987 World Cup final against France – the All Blacks’ only title. Drake proved to be a brilliant analyst of the game in his media role, and his witty barbs will be missed. The number - 203

Votes club great Brett Kenny polled at the Parramatta Eels board election yesterday, helping the rebel ticket to power. The villain - golf carts

Robert Allenby said he "could have been killed" after a cart overturned at Royal Sydney, flinging him, Darren Clarke and caddie Col Burwood three metres into the air. The trio were driving back to the locker room during a downpour on Friday and the cart failed to handle the terrain, leaving Clarke’s right leg bruised and Allenby with a sore left thigh.

Fyfe forced to pay harsh penalty

AFTER yet another top-shelf performance, it was a cruel twist of fate that Sydney FC defender Iain Fyfe would give away the penalty that decided Saturday’s match.

Replays showed Fyfe accidentally impeded the run of Central Coast striker Dylan Macallister, and with the home crowd still seething that John Aloisi was allowed to retake his missed penalty after a Mariners player entered the box, the referee pointed to the spot.

While the captain’s armband he carried implied a certain level of responsibility, Fyfe was left shattered and with a hollow feeling that he’d let his teammates down.

"It was just a really unfortunate incident," he told the Herald . "I went to block Dylan’s shot. I used my whole body for that, and I turned my back and Dylan kind of went over. But I haven’t seen the replay and I don’t know if it was a penalty or not. But if you’d ask me now, it was probably a 50-50.

"It was frustrating that there was a decision made in the 89th minute that cost us the game. It was probably a decision that could have gone either way. But that’s football."

Fyfe’s frustrations went beyond that solitary incident, with the temporary skipper admitting his teammates were shaded by their hosts in their approach.

"To be honest, I think the Mariners were more organised than us. They seem to keep great shape," he said. "They played the better football, they were always first to those second balls, and full credit to them, they were a much better team than us on the night.

"Crucially, they won the midfield battle. Their midfielders played a lot better than our midfielders. But in saying that, we were poor all over the park. It’s not just the midfielders’ fault, everybody has to stand up and take responsibility."

While coach John Kosmina alluded to the loss of Tony Popovic as a reason behind Sydney’s lack of organisation, Fyfe believes the time has come for those left to give more.

"Maybe we are missing ‘Poppa’ a little bit, but you can’t keep using that as an excuse, as far as I’m concerned," Fyfe said. "Every week we play well, like last week. We don’t miss him because we played well. It seems like every week that we lose, we’re missing Poppa.

"We can’t keep using that as an excuse. We’ve got to move on and other players step up."

Fyfe filled Popovic’s captaincy role with aplomb against the Mariners, barking instructions at every turn and doing his best to keep the younger players focused.

"It was something I really relished, and I love leading the boys out there, so it was a great feeling," he said.

While five Sydney players have committed to join other A-League clubs next season, both Fyfe and Robbie Middleby, who are heading to Adelaide and North Queensland respectively, are clearly intent on finishing their careers with Sydney in the best possible fashion.

Fyfe has resolved to leave no stone unturned in his final few months in the harbour city and is dedicated to helping fulfil the club’s lofty pre-season ambitions.

"We look around at training and see the quality, so it is there," he said. "It’s just so frustrating that we haven’t put it together over the past few months. It’s something we’ll have to keep working on. There’s only six games left in the season, and it’s important we get it right very quick or we’ll find ourselves outside the top four, and that’s unacceptable."

The seagull has landed for rookie Wood

IF RALPH MACCHIO and Jonny Wilkinson ever paired up for an appearance on Dancing with the Stars , Victorian golfer Tim Wood’s pre-shot routine is what you’d get.

Some bizarre things were sighted at the Australian Open over the past week, but Wood’s slow, systematic and slightly silly routine would almost top them.

First, the left foot goes back and he dips his toe to the grass – as if about to curtsey to the ball, or at least begin a waltz with it. The club face is rested on the grass and the grip on his belly. He then assumes the pose Wilkinson has made famous as he lines up a conversion, before waving his arms like a conductor – or the Karate Kid. If that seems difficult to imagine, allow Wood to set the scene of silliness.

"If I pretend I’m going to catch a big, heavy medicine ball, if I’m back on my heels it’s going to knock me straight over, right? So my weight’s forward.

"Then my arms get too close, so my arm’s flying out – that’s another thing. I just put it together myself about five weeks ago [during the WA PGA]. You’ve just got to laugh about it. I’ve just got poor posture. I get into bad habits with my posture. I hate it, but it’s working."

Hates it so much, in fact, he tried to ditch it for the Open.

"In the range this week, I tried to … hit the shots without doing the routine, and in the first round I hit two shanks in the front nine," he said. "I was two over after eight holes, and my caddie goes, ‘You’ve got to go back to the seagull’."

The "seagull" comes from the "wounded seagull", the description used by television commentator Bruce Young during the NSW PGA at Riverside Oaks, which Wood won.

Early yesterday, Wood was equal leader by the eighth before he slumped with four bogeys and a double on the back nine to place 11th. Ironically, it was some bad habits his routine was devised to erase that led to his back-nine crash, which included a shank on the 13th that would have had a weekend hacker cursing. The shot was his "wake-up call".

His one-over round yesterday was as bizarre as his routine – it included just four pars and a near hole-in-one on the 14th to snap a sequence of five bogeys in six holes.

It began wonderfully. He hit the pin on both one and three for a remarkable eagle-birdie-birdie start. Once he got to the top, he appeared to suffer vertigo.

He will still pocket $27,900 for his troubles, wiping out a $20,000 loan he took out to keep playing midway through the year. The 27-year-old had returned from his second year on the Canadian Tour, where he was 55th on the Order of Merit with earnings of $C11,655.83 (just over $14,000) from 14 events, ready to give the game away.

"In 20 years time, a 20-grand debt’s nothing," he said. "It absolutely kills me, but I did it."

But his career appears to have turned. He was first emergency for the Australian Masters and played in the PGA at Coolum. Now he is hoping the door might open to Asia.

"I’m stoked," he said. "I played really well. I was never nervous. I never felt like I was out of my class, out of my league, which I should – look at all these great players."

If they can’t bring T Woods out to Australia, heck, T Wood would still provide some entertainment.

Winner Clark in a state of disbelief

SOUTH AFRICAN Tim Clark stood in the middle of the 18th green at Royal Sydney yesterday, scratching his head. He was dumbfounded but he was also the 2008 Australian Open champion.

Firstly, New Zealander David Smail handed Clark and Tasmanian Mathew Goggin a reprieve. They were in the clubhouse at nine under the card for the week, ruing missed chances they thought had cost them the tournament, but suddenly, dramatically, Smail imploded.

Clark was eating a pie and chips in the clubhouse when he saw Goggin on the practice putting green. He thought he’d better join him. Shortly after, they were both on the practice range. Smail, who seemingly had an unassailable lead of four shots through nine holes, had doubled-bogey both the 15th and 16th holes – and he was one shot behind them.

Smail needed to birdie one of his final two holes to join them in a sudden-death play-off, but it wasn’t to be. He was gutted, almost breaking down, as he left the scorer’s hut. He plus Robert Allenby and West Australian Stephen Dartnall were tied for third – with Goggin and Clark left to battle it out.

On the first hole, Clark made a quite superb up and down from a greenside trap, holing the par putt from three metres. Then, the massive crowd around the 18th gasped. Goggin had a par putt from less than a metre but it lipped out. Stuart Appleby spoke of John Daly being a train wreck. We witnessed one yesterday.

"It was obviously a bonus to get in the play-off but I just feel bad for David for the way he finished," Clark said. "You never want to see that. Then in the play-off it was a shock to win it like that, too. It’s a tough way to win like that but I guess at the end of the day I am the winner.

"It will improve my world ranking [with double points loaded because it is a national open] so it’s a very important win for me with The Presidents Cup this year.

After Clark had finished with a final-round five-under 67 with a double bogey and a bogey on the back nine, "I spoke to my wife and said, ‘I think I’ve thrown away another tournament.’ I thought that was that. It is just a big shock to be here.

"I’ve seen a fellow competitor struggle coming in – and then for Mat to finish like that, I feel bad for that, too. It was certainly out of left field. Maybe later on or tomorrow I’ll celebrate but right now I’m still in a bit of shock. Obviously, I’m very happy but it’s tough to show any happiness because of what the two guys did."

Goggin had given away his golf balls and his gloves, confident that he’d finished second for a second week in a row. His coach Dale Lynch had to go to the locker room to rustle up balls and a glove for the play-off. At Coolum, he was devastated with the loss to Geoff Ogilvy but yesterday was far more philosophical.

"I feel for David really. He had a good tournament, he was playing well and to have such a horror finish is brutal for him. Obviously, my finish in the play-off … well, to get in the play-off was a bonus but to miss a short putt and not keep it going twists the knife a little bit. But, that’s part of it," Goggin said. "Tim and I didn’t deserve to be in a play-off at all. It wasn’t even in our heads. I don’t know how many times I’ve finished second now, but hopefully it is more in the mould of David Duval where you finish second a lot and then you win a bunch."

So sure was Clark that he would not win that he came in for a media interview before packing up his locker. Then, he said, "I am disappointed in the way I finished. The double bogey on the par three [14th] killed the momentum."

Clark, who has played the past three weeks in Australia, heads home for the South African Open this week. It will be interesting to see how he is received.

Before his surprise win, he’d said: "In all honesty, I feel more welcome here than I do at home. I don’t want it to sound like a knock on the South African tour, but I really have been made to feel very welcome here. I don’t feel that at home."

Clark will be back next year – as defending champion of the Open. His rounds these past four days were 70-73-69-67 for that nine-under total, one better than John Senden’s winning tally at Royal Sydney two years ago.

For Ogilvy, it was, in his own assessment, a horrible week in comparison with his deeds at Coolum.

"It could have been really special," he said of yesterday’s four-under 68. Putts shaved the hole, and he was dealt a couple of rough breaks by the bounce of the ball. It wasn’t easy in the wind gusting to 60kmh, just guesswork as to which way it would gust next. TOP FINISHERS Australian Open 279 – Tim Clark (RSA) 70 73 69 67 won on first play- off hole, Mathew Goggin (Aus) 65 70 75 69. 280 – Robert Allenby (Aus) 71 67 71 71, David Smail (NZ) 67 68 70 75, Stephen Dartnall (Aus) 65 68 75 72.

Denis is no menace: Kenny

DESPITE a very public debate that has at times become personal, Brett Kenny says he and his three fellow incoming Parramatta Football Club board members do not have a "big problem" with Parramatta Leagues Club supremo Denis Fitzgerald.

Those in the lead roles were focused on unity after yesterday’s vote for the football club board, playing down the verbal stoushing during the lead-up.

"No more in-fighting or public brawling, that’s what we’re looking to do," Kenny said. "You want everyone going in the same direction. At the end of the day, what we’re looking to do is have the club become very successful again.

"We [the new football club board and Fitzgerald] had a short meeting after the general meeting, and it was very good, there wasn’t a problem there. We all spoke about what was put in the papers, and we all realised there was a lot of paper talk involved and now we have to go in the same direction …

"A lot of people don’t get on well in various companies, but when it comes down to making a decision for that company, you put your personalities aside, and that’s what we’ll be looking to do."

Fitzgerald said he was not surprised by the result, and urged all parties to "accept that decision, move on and work together for the betterment of Parramatta". "We had a meeting and I congratulated the board members," he said. "I’ve worked with those four guys before, three as players, and know them well and I’m sure we can work with them. I’d like to see a stop to any negative coverage the club may be getting. There had been a couple of the board members in Ray Price and Brett Kenny who had been very critical … but now they are on the inside, I’d like to think that’ll be over."