Rory McIlroy’s Australian Open debut has been overshadowed by Mark Hensby’s criticism of Aussie legend Greg Norman.

Sponsors’ invite McIlroy, 16, is one of 20 amateurs in the field at Moonah Links near Melbourne.

But a debate over the uncertain future of the Australasian PGA Tour has prompted World No 30 Hensby to call on Norman to do more to help.

The tour no longer attracts star names and struggled to find a sponsor for this week’s Australian Open.

And Hensby believes that high profile players such as two time major winner Norman can do more to attract the big names.

Hensby rapped: “Why can't he come out here and do something? There's a guy who has a lot of pull, I can't see why he's not doing anything.

“Greg has been a big ambassador for golf but now we need him. He is a guy who knows a lot of people and has a lot of influence on a lot of things.

“What he can do is get sponsors. Greg Norman is a very powerful man, I think he can get a lot of sponsors.”

The event has attracted all the big names in Australian golf with Peter Lonard chasing a hat-trick of Australian Open wins against a field that includes stars such as Adam Scott, Stuart Appleby and Robert Allenby.

And it also offers McIlroy the chance to gain valuable experience and keep his game sharp over the winter months.

He said: “I just need experience really. But I also need to be more consistent. I don’t want to play well for just six or eight weeks of the season.

“Next year I want to go out and try to win every tournament that I play in. I know I am good enough and I have the game to do it. It is just about doing it that particular week.”

Next week he will play in the prestigious Dune Amateur Medal alongside English Walker Cup ace Oliver Fisher.

And the attractions of ‘winter’ golf in Australia and Asia has also seen Ireland’s European Tour players kick off 2006 in sunny climes.
Challenge Tour graduates David Higgins and Michael Hoey are in China for the €1 million Volvo China Open alongside Peter Lawrie, Gary Murphy and Damien McGrane.

Higgins, who played on the main tour in 1997 and 2001, said: “I am absolutely delighted to be here in China and I feel like a young fellow starting out again after a very long year on the Challenge Tour.

“Now I've regained my card, I can't wait for the year ahead and while I may be a bit rusty this week, I am out for the four events up to Christmas and looking forward to making the most of the opportunity.”

Paul McGinley has already been to China twice this year and will be back in Asia in January to play in the inaugural Royal Trophy in Thailand.

The Dubliner, 38, earned his spot on Seve Ballesteros’s European team thanks to his third place finish on the 2005 money list.

The matchplay event between Europe and Asia will be a Ryder Cup style clash and Seve has chosen Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo as his captain's picks for a European team that already includes David Howell.

Ballesteros said: “Nick and Ian bring great experience while David and Paul are playing excellent golf and are both coming from winning big tournaments.”

The annual event will consist of 16 matches, involving foursomes, fourballs and singles.

The non-playing captain of the Asian side will be Japan's Masahiro Kuramoto, who has won 30 titles on the Japan Tour and will announce his team over the next few weeks.

Senior golf

Ulsterman Jimmy Heggarty is on track to earn his European Seniors Tour card in Portugal.

Heggarty, 49, fired a two under par 69 to be tied for fourth place on five under par with one round to go at the Pestana Resort on the Algarve.

Six full cards and eight conditional cards available for the 2006 circuit with Australian Stewart Ginn and South African Bertus Smit in pole position on seven under.

Ginn, who won the Ford Seniors Players’ Championship on the US Champions Tour in 2001, carded a 68 to join Smit at the top.

Smit, who won over 100 Amateur Open titles in his native South Africa before turning pro, carded a rare birdie four at the par five 18th for a four under par 67.

Adan Sowa of Argentina is third on six under with Heggarty and England’s Stephen Chadwick sharing fourth place with Chile’s Angel Fernandez on five under par.

Just 41 players made the three round cut and they included Ireland’s John Curtis (14th) and amateurs Maurice Kelly (23rd) and Chris Hurst (37th).

Portmarnock amateur Adrian Morrow carded a 73 to miss out by two shots on 10 over.