Tour News

Surprise leaders at Australian PGA

(Photo: Bruce Young)
With the greatest of respect to the two golfers leading the Australian PGA Championship at the halfway mark at Palmer Coolum Resort, there would have been rather generous odds for either to have been leading through 36 holes of one of Australian golf's most significant events - let alone both of them.

25 year old Chinese golfer, Zhang Xin Jun, and 26 year old Victorian, Daniel Popovic, lead by two over Victorians Geoff Ogilvy and Matthew Griffin with a further shot back to Mathew Goggin, Steve Bowditch and Brad Kennedy.

Conditions were breezy from early on today although with the golf course having been further softened by overnight rain the scoring was strong throughout the day.

Zhang and Popovic played on opposite sides of the draw although neither had any real advantage with their tee times.

Popovic began where he left off last night when he birdied the first hole. As he stood over his approach at the par five he made the decision to attack. "I went out there with the same mindset of still being aggressive," said Popovic after his round.

"I mean on the first I made birdie, I'll admit I was nervous on the first tee but I hit a great shot down the first, hit a good layup, had a great yardage in and we actually talked about playing left of the pin and I stood over it and I thought why not go for it and I made birdie and that really settled me for the rest of the day. Getting off to that sort of start tomorrow will be a big plus."

Popovic's only hiccup came at the 15th where he took double bogey at the hole which has now cost him three shots in two rounds. "That 15th hole, I can't get my head around it actually, it is really tough judging the wind there, behind the green there is a bunch of trees that are pretty tall and we actually, me and my caddy Johno we had the same yardage a lot today and we thought, yep, I picked the club straight out of the bag and we both agreed on it, stood over the shot, I did pull it a bit I admit, but I still thought I actually called it to go.

"It landed over the green and we just sort of looked at each other completely bamboozled didn't know what the hell happened, Then over the back of the green didn't have the best lie there was a lot of into the grain, the grass growing into the ball and then just completely stuffed it up. It was a mind blank there's no explanation for it apart from I just wasn't in the shot."

Popovic did not get a lot of sleep last night as he contemplated his first round lead. "I got to bed pretty early but then I was just tossing and turning a bit, as expected, in such a big tournament, you watch this on TV as you are growing up and the cliché thing of you look up to these guys all the time, which I do. I mean growing up you look at Geoff Ogilvy when he won the 2006 US Open I watched all four rounds of that, hopefully playing with him tomorrow I will probably hope I can get to sleep a bit earlier than last night that's for sure."

That he will play with Ogilvy (and Zhang) in tomorrow's third round will provide further proof to Popovic (if indeed he needed any) that this is the big time and while Ogilvy might have been a great assistance during Tuesday's practice round in which they played together, tomorrow is the real thing.

Ogilvy perhaps summed it up best when he responded to a question about the benefit of experience. "I think it helps, the first tee can be a scary place the first few times you are there on the weekend, usually I have always found even way, way back once you get into the round it just turns into golf you get used to it, so if you get through the first few holes you usually do pretty well. It is definitely an advantage, to have been there a lot of times you see it with guys like Pete last week experience, there is no substitute for experience in golf I think."

Zhang is in Australia because of the OneAsia connection and because he is a member of the Chinese National Squad. "I'm a member of Team China (the national golf squad) and the Chinese Golf Association frequently send us here and there to play in tournaments like this. The Australian Open is one of OneAsia's flag events, so it is a good opportunity to gain some experience.

"It's my first time at the Australian PGA Championship and Queensland, but I definitely have heard of the event as I watched it live last year. Queensland is very beautiful place and so many famous players take part here."

Zhang played in the afternoon field and was quickly out of the blocks with birdies at the first and the second holes but it was his stretch of four consecutive birdies through the middle stages of his back nine that swept him into the outright lead.

He missed the green at the 16th and took bogey but grabbed that back immediately when his approach at the 17th finished 5 feet behind the hole. When he holed that he led by one over Popovic but a bogey from the middle of the fairway at the last saw him finish tied at 10 under.

Ogilvy is looming as a serious danger to the relatively inexperienced leaders.

"I feel like I am in a good place," said the 2008 champion. "I think I like how I am playing and I am obviously quite comfortable on this golf course. It's nice I will be in one of the last few groups tomorrow and if I can have a good score tomorrow, maybe get right up there after tomorrow and give it a crack on Sunday."

Griffin is a slowly but surely emerging player on the Australian scene. Three years ago in his very first event as a professional he finished runner-up and has continued to make steady progress since culmination in his OneAsia Tour victory in Korea earlier this year.

Griffin did not gain access to the PGA Tour in his attempt to do so a month or ago but a win this week would give him the OneAsia Order of Merit title for 2012 further confirming his growing status in the game.

Matthew Goggin has lost his PGA Tour status and will next year play the web.com Tour, Steven Bowditch has recently regained his PGA Tour card and Brad Kennedy won the New Zealand Open twelve months ago and on the Japan Golf Tour in 2012.

The chances do not stop there however. With two inexperienced players at the top of the leaderboard there will be many in the field who believe the real lead is at 8 under therefore opening the door for any player at say two under or better through 36 holes to be a chance of moving quickly through the field.

The layout at the Palmer Coolum Resort lends itself to low scoring and those players within eight shots of the lead still have genuine chances of contending for the title late on Sunday.

Those players include, amongst others, the winner and runner-up at last week's Australian Open, Peter Senior and Brendan Jones. Senior had 70 to be at 6 under and Jones a 67 to be at 4 under.

The round of the day came from Kurt Barnes whose 65 included bogies at the 11th and the 18th (his 2nd and 9th holes). Barnes now shares 10th after starting the day in 80th position.

The cut fell at 1 over with 71 players making it throught to the weekend.


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Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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