[PHOTO: Gary Lisbon]

An Order of Merit champion crowned, global opportunities created and futures secured on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia. All will unfold this week at the final event of the 2023-2024 season, The National Tournament presented by BMW at the iconic The National Golf Club on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

Twelve months ago, Tom Power Horan claimed his second victory of the season at one of the best layouts in the country, the Greg Norman/Bob Harrison-designed Moonah course.

With the Moonah course again to host this week, there are two players with multiple wins already this season heading into the season finale.

Kiwi rookie Kazuma Kobori – winner of the qualifying school last April – leads the Order of Merit comfortably thanks to Webex Players Series wins at Cobram Barooga, Rosebud and Castle Hill Country Club.

Twelfth on his home course at Castle Hill, Daniel Gale added to his earlier win at the NT PGA with victory at the closing Webex Players Series event of the year at Oaks Cypress Lakes in the Hunter Valley.

It puts Gale in prime position to snare one of the three DP World Tour cards on offer for the top three Order of Merit finishers come Sunday evening.

Kobori is guaranteed one but Gale, Vic Open winner Brett Coletta, Heritage Classic champion Matthew Griffin, reigning Order of Merit winner David Micheluzzi, the consistent Jak Carter and WA PGA victor Ben Eccles can all leap into the top three with a win this week.

But it is not only about winning. Prominent finishes on the Order of Merit open opportunities at qualifying schools internationally while those who finish in the top 50 earn a full card for the 2024-2025 season.

Prior to the New Zealand Open, Ben Wharton had all but resigned himself to losing his spot on tour, potentially for good. Up to that point, Wharton had endured a tough run this season on the PGA Tour of Australasia, his best result a tie for 15th at the Victorian PGA Championship at Moonah Links.

Well outside the top 50 that retain their status for next season, Wharton was weighing up his options. There was a very real possibility that this week’s tournament could have been his last – if he’d decided to tee it up at all. With a baby on the way, it was clear to Wharton that something had to change.

With tears in his eyes, leader in the clubhouse at the Millbrook Resort – if only for the next few hours, he tried to explain what comes next after signing for a potentially career-saving closing 64.

“Coming in this week, I was looking at racking up the sticks for good,” Wharton said.

“That kind of defines to me that I am good enough to hang around the top of the leaderboard when I allow my mind to do it,” added Wharton, who climbed from 69th to 27th on the Order of Merit as a result.

By virtue of the recently established exemption for the leading five players from the International Federation Ranking — the top players from the moneylists of Australasia, Japan, Asia and South Africa – the winner of the Order of Merit will be automatically exempt into the Open Championship at Royal Troon in July.

The top three on the Order of Merit earn a category on the DP World Tour next season and the leading three finishers (not otherwise eligible, down to 20th place) are exempt into final stage of DP World Tour Qualifying School.

There are also exemptions into the Alfred Dunhill Championship played at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns for those who finish high on the Order of Merit.

The only place to watch every event on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia live is on Fox Sports, available on Foxtel and Kayo.
Round 3: Saturday 4pm-7pm (AEDT)
Round 4: Sunday 2pm-7pm (AEDT)

2023: Tom Power Horan (Moonah course)
2022: Derek Ackerman (Gunnamatta course)

Greg Norman/Bob Harrison (2000)

Elvis Smylie, 63 (Round 2, 2023)

1. Kazuma Kobori         833.93
2. Brett Coletta             599.76
3. Daniel Gale               539.84
4. Matthew Griffin        494.69
5. David Micheluzzi      372.64
6. Jak Carter                 360.60
7. Ben Eccles                358.35
8. Kade McBride           345.53
9. Kerry Mountcastle    331.35
10. Lachlan Barker        326.88