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An and McCardle joint leaders at Australian Open

An pitches to the par five 17th in round two (Photo: Bruce Young)
Korean Byeong Hun An has retained his lead at the Emirates Australian Open at the Lakes Golf Club in Sydney, adding a second round of 69 to the 67 which gave him the opening round lead but late in the day he was joined by South Australian Max McCardle who birdied his final two holes for a round of 66 to share the halfway honours.

The contrast between the pair is stark, An now an accomplished PGA Tour player and a winner of the European Tour’s flagship event the BMW PGA Championship while McCardle is ranked outside the top 1000 in the world and essentially plays tours in China and Australasia.

McCardle finished his round at 5.30 just as most had resigned themselves to An taking the lead into the weekend but McCardle managed to hole a pitch from a fluffy lie at the last to join An although he was unaware at the time.

“There was not a lot of leaderboards around so I did not know exactly where I stood,” said McCardle who has yet to win a tournament in his professional career but has played very solidly for much of 2018.

Max McCardle faces the media after his fine round

In fact McCardle has made all but one of his last twenty cuts wherever he has played and has recorded runner-up finishes in Tier 2 events in Australia and in China previously so while his performance to date this week is a surprise he has played with some success in professional tournament golf.

"Maybe to be leading," he said when asked if this was a surprise. "I definitely felt like I've been playing well, just for whatever reason not quite piecing four rounds together probably for the last 10 weeks.

"It's been close, and the last couple of days I've played really nice, steady golf and made a couple of putts and just sort of tried to keep pretty level.  So I give myself, yeah, an opportunity, for sure. You know, it's been a good year, consistent year. Probably just lacking, especially in Australia, some really top finishes."

This though is another level but he can look back with good memories to a top ten at the Australian Open won by Rory McIlroy in 2013 as he contemplates what will no doubt be an exciting and nervous weekend.      

The undoubted highlight of An’s round was his hole in one at the par 3 15th hole, providing the boost he needed when perhaps his round was treading water at that point.

“I hit a soft 7‑iron, it was slightly helping wind,” said An when describing his third hole in one in competition. “I can't remember the yardage, but he told me to take five yards off, so a little soft cut in there. I hit it good, everything was perfect. It was nice fading from the left to the hole and went in.

An and McCardle lead by one over the event’s leading world ranked player, Matt Kuchar, Victorian amateur David Micheluzzi and last week’s NSW Open winner Jake McLeod.

Another leading amateur Keita Nakajima of Japan is another shot back amongst a group at 6 under and the battle for amateur honours will be of interest this weekend.

Nakajima actually defeated Micheluzzi in the final of the Australian Amateur Championship early in 2018 so there might be a score to settle over the closing 36 holes in that regard to determine who wins the medal for the leading amateur.

After the demanding conditions of day one little respite from the weather was expected on day two but to the pleasant surprise of all the early drizzle lifted and the expected heavy winds did not eventuate.

In fact, scoring conditions could hardly have been better with a medium breeze and soft greens making the chances of those out in the morning field forcing their way back into the tournament after the battles of Thursday afternoon a real possibility.  

Matt Kuchar and David Micheluzzi were amongst the few who had handled the winds and rain of Thursday as well as anyone, Micheluzzi one of the last to finish on day one with a round of 68 and Kuchar fighting his way through arguably the worst of the conditions for a round of 70 to set up improvement on Friday.

Both would do just that, Kuchar capitalising on a grinding approach in the tough conditions of Thursday before beginning with three birdies in his first five holes this morning to move into contention.

After his round he talked about his satisfaction in being able to post a score on Thursday despite the conditions.

“Hugely pleased with 2 under par. It was one of those days where you could easily see high numbers be posted. I saw the defending champion, Cameron Davis, make a couple big numbers, and they were out there. 

“There's still some out there today, but yesterday in particular I thought the conditions were just that hard.  Anything around par was a very respectable score, and to shoot 2 under was quite pleasing.”

Matt Kuchar hits his approach to the 4th this morning.

Kuchar was asked to isolate a couple of shots that were of importance to him and his round today and interestingly chose a hole on which he dropped a shot as one that he felt made a difference.

“There was a great save that actually was a bogey, but on the 17th hole I hit my second shot in the water, went up, took a drop.  Risky shot trying to put my fourth onto the green.

"I hit a fantastic shot from I think it was 222 in to about 12 feet.  I missed the putt, but it was one of my better shots of the day under the circumstances having just put one in the water.

David Micheluzzi watches his approach at the 3rd which led to a birdie.

22 year old amateur, Micheluzzi, displayed some real class on Thursday and through six holes in 5 under today he was beginning to look as if he might establish a significant 36 hole lead. He would, however, drop shots at his 8th and 9th holes and when he again dropped a shot at his 10th (the first of the Lakes layout) things appeared to be unravelling.

To his credit and belying his inexperience at this level he hit a magnificent long iron to his 12th hole and, although unable to advance his cause from there, when he finished with a round 69 he was tied for the lead with Kuchar who had finished 20 minutes earlier.

Micheluzzi was asked as to how he was handling the nerves given the magnitude of being in contention at the halfway stage of his national open.

"There is nerves,” he said. “There has to be nerves because obviously it means something to me. To play in an Australian Open's just awesome.  I've been dreaming about it since I was a little kid.  This is my first one, so the nerves are still there, but I'm trying to do everything just to try to take my mind off it and just play golf, which I really enjoyed today."

At the completion of the morning tee times Micheluzzi and Kuchar led at 7 under par by one over Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, Keegan Bradley, Cameron Percy and Jordan Zunic.

Perhaps the most interesting story amongst those behind the leaders was that of Jordan Zunic who two weeks ago won the Queensland Open before heading on to Spain for the Final Stage of Qualifying for the European Tour.

Unsuccessful there, Zunic headed back quickly to Sydney in time to tee it up and after a slow start yesterday he produced the round of the day 65 today to move within one of the lead.

With the breezes remaining low there was plenty of opportunity remaining for the afternoon field and it would be An and McCardle who would steal the limelight although their lead is a narrow one with many possibilities over the weekend.

Cameron Smith is the leading Australian player in the field and today he fought back from a slow start to finish at 1 over par and inside the cutline in 51st place.

Defending champion, Cameron Davis, also recovered from his opening round of 76 with a second round of 69 to also make the weekend in 51st place.

 

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