GOLFING great Vijay Singh has chided the Australian Open for its insufficient prizemoney because it's "ridiculous" that a small economy in Fiji can nourish a wealthier $1.5 million event.
The three-time major winner created the stir on Thursday when questioned about the PGA Tour of Australasia's role in widening its footprint by developing the Fiji International at the ocean-fringed Natadola Bay golf course.
Singh is delighted the idyllic patch he redesigned is getting airplay worldwide yet detoured into his befuddlement that Australia's flagship Open will be played for a $1.25 million purse in Sydney in November.
"This tournament has more prizemoney than the Australian Open and that is ridiculous, really," Singh said after opening the tournament in his homeland with a one-under-par 71 for a top-35 position in the wind.
"Fiji is so small of a country and the economy is a world apart compared to Australia yet we have this golf tournament (with major government backing and Fiji Airways sponsorship).
"I think Australia should take a hint and come up with a tournament that is better (in terms of prizemoney).
"I think the sponsors in Australia and the committee (of the Australasian Tour) itself should come up with more tournaments.
"You've had so many great players out of Australia, you have to get more events."
Singh may be an unexpected voice but he is not alone in wondering why Australia's top events have hovered around the $1.25 million-$1.5 million threshold for years and the once-revered Australian Masters has dropped off the map altogether in Melbourne.
Appearance fees to woo a marquee player chew up tournament budgets yet no one can complain when British Open champion Jordan Spieth is defending his Australian Open title at The Australian (November 23-26) and US Masters champion Sergio Garcia is the coup for the Australian PGA on the Gold Coast (November 30-December 3).
The 25km wind and penal rough wrecked the day for Tasmanian Ryan McCarthy (82) but at the top of the leaderboard in Fiji there was a glut of birdies and commonsense course management.
South Australian leftie Adam Bland finished eagle-birdie for his fine 68 with the leaders still out on the course while Jason Norris and Michael Sim were well pleased with 69s after early tee-off times in the stiffer breezes.
Argentina's former Masters champion Angel Cabrera (72) bogeyed three of his final five holes to lose the momentum of five birdies.
As course designer, Singh was delighted with the reviews of his redesign yet even he saw the glitch at the tough par-three eighth.
The course's signature hole with a beach-turned-bunker running down its left edge and rum marquees under palm trees was set from the back tees at 208m for a pin set tight to the back left.
With the hole playing downwind, players had enormous difficulty holding the green with five, six and seven irons and bogeys aplenty were racked up with balls hopping down the bank behind the hard, newly laid green. Cabrera and favourite Ryan Fox (72) were among those who took bogey on the course's hardest hole.
Some like Malaysia's Gavin Green (68) relished the wind.
"I love it. In college at (the University of) New Mexico we had a lot of wind way stronger than this," Green said.
"Thank god my coach made me play in this stuff. It has prepared me for this.
"In college we played in a lot of crappy weather, cold, rain, whatever ... if it's not lightning we played.
"I know how to flight my ball but you've still got to do it during the tournament."
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