For Zunic, a former New Zealand Open Champion, the round represents a significant turnaround from results he has been producing since that win in Queenstown in early 2015 and he puts that down to a chance meeting with former Australian PGA Champion Nick O’Hern whose recently released book Zunic had read recently.
“I have not been playing as well as I would have liked but not long ago I read a book my girlfriend Olivia had put me on to by Nick O’Hern called ‘Tour Mentality’ and I read it and Olivia reached out to Nick and told him how much I had enjoyed it.
“This week I managed to have a practice round with him and although Nick had a sore wrist and could only hit a few shots he walked around with me and had a few putts here and there and next thing you know I am having an 18 hole mentor playing lesson with Nick O’Hern.
“What can I say - what an awesome bloke he just gave me such an insight on how to think better as I had been really tough on myself and putting a lot of pressure on myself. For him to reach out to me and give his time to me like that was so great. He made things so simple and has such a great golf brain.
"I didn’t expect things to turn around as quickly as they have but by just thinking a little better out there today the results speak for themselves."
An example of the benefit of just what O’Hern may have been telling Zunic came at Zunic’s last hole, the par five 9th, where he deliberately laid up just short of the green instead of going for it. He then chipped in for eagle to finish his round and join Bland in the lead.
Co-leader Bland has just finished another year on the Japan Golf Tour where he has recorded yet another solid if unspectacular season. A highlight came when playing his way into the Open Championship via a 3rd place finish in an event in Japan.
“It was a good day obviously but was off to a slow start just making a few pars but then hit a few nice shots and converted them,” he said.
Bland was referring a run of six birdies in seven holes through the middle of his round before the momentum slowed, although he did birdie the 16th before his only bogey of th day at the 18th.
“I found this year a little disappointing as I had been working hard but was making changes in my shot shape so I guess overall I have to be happy as it has still been consistent enough," said the South Australian.
“I haven’t won for a couple of years so haven’t had a win or many high finishes for a couple of years so have been treading water a little in Japan.
"It is always the goal every year when I get starts here to finish high on the Order of Merit or win one of these big events if I can," he added when asked what winning an event such as this would mean to him.
“I haven’t really been close in the past so it would be awesome to do so.”
Bland has won on the Canadian and Japan Tours and has won lesser events in Australia but nothing at this level.
The pair leads over pre-tournament favourite and the event’s major drawcard, Sergio Garcia, who perhaps surprisingly was one of the few near the top of the leaderboard to be out in the morning field. He had to endure two stoppages for rain but played well despite the early wake-up call.
Also at 5-under and just one behind are veteran Peter Senior, Marc Leishman, who is the event’s second highest world ranked player, and the very late finishing Daniel Nisbet and Michael Wright.
“I've never teed off at 6:10 in a tournament,” said Garcia. “Obviously in practice rounds I've done it before, but in a tournament I think probably the earliest I've teed off I want to say it's 6:50, maybe 7:00. So that was interesting. I think it was probably ‑‑ I want to say it was the closest I've had a dinner and a breakfast ever.
“It was a long round. Obviously a couple rain delays on the course and not what you hope for, but other than that I felt like I played pretty solid. I wouldn't say that it was amazing but it was good. The most positive thing for me would be to go a bogey‑free round, which I didn't realise until we got done.
“I feel like mentally I'm not quite as sharp as I was probably a month ago or so. I guess the year is kind of draining a little bit, but it was nice to play with Scotty and with Wade, we had a great time. Other than a couple of times where it poured down on us, it was a fun day.”
Leishman played the last four holes in 4 under to move into a share of second and feels good about where things are at.
“Yeah, feeling good,” said the world number 13 and most recent recipient of the Greg Norman Medal. “Game's in a good spot, putter feels good, so hopefully can get out early with no wind and have a low one.”
58-year-old Senior walked away from competitive tournament golf after an injury scare seemingly had brought an end to his already elongated career at the 2016 Australian Open. He has played events on the Australian Legends Tour in 2017 but this is his first outing against the ‘youngsters’ since Royal Sydney in November of last year.
More than 60 players finished the opening round under par reflecting the soft and rather benign conditions and with more rain predicted over the next few days there is little likelihood of the course drying out to the point where it becomes the test it normally is.
So all the players who should be near the top of the leaderboard are, with the possible exception of Adam Scott who is languishing in 41st place at 1 under par and five from the lead.
Six of the leading seven players at the end of day one played in the afternoon field reflecting a golf course that dried out after an early morning deluge with no disruption for the afternoon field.
JACK WILSON THE USE OF BOUNCE
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