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Morning leaders ahead all day at RACV Royal Pines

Joint leader Matt Jager discusses his 2nd to the par 5th 9th (his final hole) with caddy Ryan McCarthy (Photo: Bruce Young)
West Australian, Matt Jager, and Queenslander, Jake McLeod, lead the Australian PGA Championship at the completion of round one at the RACV Royal Pines Golf Course on the Gold Coast, the pair recording rounds of 66 in perfect morning conditions to lead by one.

Their lead, while threatened later in the day by Dimi Papadatos and Jason Scrivener, was eventually retained and they lead over Korean Jae Woong Eom and Papadatos.

There is another shot back to the event’s leading world ranked player, Marc Leishman, Spain’s Adrian Otaegui, former PGA Tour player Matthew Goggin and Scrivener who frustratingly bogeyed his final two holes to drop from a share of the lead to a share of 5th place.      

Jager’s only blemish on the card came when he three-putted to 8th hole (his 17th) from 25 feet short but that aside it is was a near faultless round of golf and so encouraging for a golfer who has perhaps promised more than he has delivered in his career to date.

The undoubted highlights of his round were the eagles he recorded at his 3rd and 6th holes (the course’s 12th and 15th).

“Well, the eagles were a bonus obviously, but in saying that, just made some really nice swings," said Jager who has yet to win a recognised event in his now seven years as a professional.

"I put us in a position and just rolled a couple of putts in.  You obviously don't expect to do that, but that was a bonus.”

Jager appears to have found some of the form that saw him win the Australian and New Zealand Amateur championships before turning professional, his more recent form suggesting things are on the improve for the now 30 year old.

“I think I sort of struggled in the middle of the year, I missed like three cuts by 1,” said Jager.

“I think tournaments like Fiji, it's hard because you've had like six weeks off or something and you've got to go in and play a big event, whereas this, it's been good because I've sort of built from the Vic PGA in Ainsbury and the West Australian Open, New South Wales Open and Aussie Open.”

McLeod is arguably Australia’s most in form golfer at present having won the NSW Open three weeks ago and then finished 3rd at the Australian Open, two performances which elevated his standing in the game from 436th in the world ranking three weeks ago to his current 160th.

Today, McLeod made a fast start to reach the turn in 4 under and although the momentum slowed over the closing nine holes he very nearly holed from the bunker for eagle at the last, the resultant birdie seeing him complete his round of 66 and at that point lead on his own before Jager finished an hour later.

Jake McLeod's great run of form continues 

McLeod knows that a win this week would earn him European Tour status in 2019 but so too would the European Tour card which goes to the player who finishes highest on the 2018 PGA Tour of Australasia and is not otherwise exempt for the European Tour. McLeod currently leads the PGA Tour of Australasia’s Order of Merit.

So, for McLeod this week is arguably the biggest of his career to date and could potentially set up his golfing life is he is able to finish the event strongly and of course he is fully aware of the fact.

“Obviously I was pretty nervous starting off, but starting like that settles nerves,” said McLeod.

“Yeah, I've been playing well, I've just got to keep on doing what I've been doing.  Anything can happen.  If one of the other guys wins, obviously they win. So I just go do what I can do and see what happens at the end of it.”

McLeod has been working on his mental attitude on the golf course with the help of a new psychologist and clearly it is working for him.

“The whole game's been pretty good and I've been ‑‑ I've seen a new psychologist six months to a year ago now and just the things we've been working on's been really good, so I think that's definitely helped a lot."

“Just accepting how I'm going to feel, like I can't change my thoughts and all that sort of stuff," he added when pressed exactly what it is he has ben working on. "I just need to stay really focused on the shot and have a bit of a laugh out there and just stay relaxed.  Well, not relaxed because I'm nervous, but you know what I mean, just get on with it.”

The leaders at 6 under lead by one over Jae Woong Eom and Dimi Papadatos, Papadatos with a birdie at his final hole to remind all that his recent runner-up finish at the Australian Open was no flash in the pan.

Papadatos is another in the running for the top spot on the Order of Merit following his great week at the Australian Open and a top 10 finish at the NSW Open.  

The manner in which he finished off his week at the Australian Open has provided further confidence for the former New Zealand and Victorian Open winner.

If he was to secure the top spot on the PGA Tour of Australasia or win this week then he would atone for the disappointment of being disqualified from the final event of the European Challenge Tour when in contention for a European Tour card through that process.

“I learnt I can deal with that sort of stuff,” responded Papadatos when asked as to how the final day of the Australian Open has helped him.

“I felt like that was ‑‑ it's quite a big event for me, and playing in Sydney in front of everyone, all my family and friends, that was a bit of added pressure I felt and I dealt with it really well and I felt quite comfortable. 

“Even though I wasn't really in contention, I sort of got myself in a pretty decent position for the last day.  So I just took a lot out of that and get more confidence, a bit of self belief maybe.”

Eom has had an outstanding season on the Korean Tour this season winning once and recording several top tens in addition.  He is, though, ranked 436th in the world ranking so this was perhaps a case of boxing above his weight. The next few dys will be of interest to discover how his game stands up internationally.

Pre tournament favourites Marc Leishman and defending champion Cameron Smith are in a share of 5th and 22nd respectively and have made solid enough starts. They will both however be required to play in the more demanding afternoon conditions on day two.

SCORES

  

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