Nail-biting time ahead for rivals
By SPENCER ROBINSON
WHILE the big boys are battling for the big bucks at Clearwater Bay this week, a number of intriguing sub-plots will add extra spice to the US$500,000 Omega PGA Championship.
For the majority of the players in the 131-strong field, the tournament marks the end of a long, hard road that began in Pattaya in June and has taken them through a total of 12 countries.
But dozens of the competitors in Hong Kong's richest-ever golfing event know they are in for a nail-biting week that will have a significant bearing on their immediate futures.
For some of the leading lights the target is to finish high enough at Clearwater Bay to ensure they claim one of the coveted 16 spots in next week's US$200,000 Asian Matchplay Championship in the Philippines.
For others the aims will be more modest - simply to survive the halfway cut for the leading 65 players and ties and thus assure themselves of retaining their full playing rights for the 1996 campaign which begins in March.
The magic numbers will be around US$60,000 in total earnings in the inaugural season to secure a spot at Manila's Sta Elena Golf Club, while US$22,000 would appear to be sufficient to finish in the top-60 on the final Omega Order of Merit.
The matchplay tournament is designed to reward the players who have performed consistently well during the course of the gruelling circuit that has stretched over seven months.
Although the four-day Manila tournament will be a test of the players' stamina as much as their skill, make no mistake, the opportunity of picking up another big cheque will act as a huge incentive for those who still harbour aspirations of another week of golf.
According to APGA officials the lineup at Sta Elena will feature the top 11 on the final Order of Merit, the winners of the Tour's four major championships, of which the Clearwater Bay tournament is the last, with one exemption.
'Major' champions Robert Willis (Gadgil Western Dubai Creek Open), Lin Keng-chi (Samsung Masters) and Gaurav Ghei (Gadgil Western Masters) are guaranteed to finish in the top 11. Therefore, the player placed 14th on Sunday evening will be assured a start in Manila.
With so many players in contention, calculators will be much sought-after by the time the last putt is sunk at Clearwater Bay.
Currently, the 14th-placed player in the merit standings, American Gerry Norquist, has earned US$59,217. However, to be certain of finishing in that position, Norquist knows he will have to avoid making an early exit from the Clearwater Bay tournament.
For Hong Kong's Dominique Boulet, currently lying in 36th place with US$33,420 to his credit, finishing third this week would earn him US$31,000 and secure him a place.
To clinch his spot in Manila, Derek Fung, the territory's only other regular performer on the circuit, will need to fare even better. With winnings of US$26,455 he needs to finish second which would boost his bank balance by US$55,650.
Of course, if he were to win the Omega PGA Championship, Fung would qualify automatically anyway.