Little known South African Zander Lombard is the surprise first round leader of the Australian PGA Championship, after a wild day that saw just six players better par, Steve Keipert reports.
BY STEVE KEIPERT at RACV ROYAL PINES RESORT
AN eclectic leaderboard was a fitting result from a wild, capricious first day at the Australian PGA Championship that sees little-known South African Zander Lombard nursing a two-stroke lead overnight.
The World No.800, who plies his trade on the Sunshine Tour in his homeland and is one of 25 players from that circuit here this week, carded a five-under 67 that was impressive for its complete lack of bogeys as much as the five birdies. The 20-year-old is making his first visit to Australia and showed an immediate liking for the revamped RACV Royal Pines Resort layout.
English journeyman Mark Foster holds down second place after a three-under 69, with Victorian Ashley Hall and South African Dylan Frittelli carding 70s. Only six players broke par after a day of strong winds that buffeted even the early starters. The opening groups battled rain and wind gusts of more than 70 kilometres per hour at times as wind warnings were issued for much of south-east Queensland. The afternoon wave of players experienced only marginally milder conditions as Royal Pines became a resort course in name only.
Scoring was difficult as the combination of an unfamiliar layout, firm new greens and high winds trapped many players. Brandt Snedeker, the tournament drawcard and top-ranked player in the field, was seven-over after four holes in carding a horror 84. Four days after shooting 61 at The Australian Golf Club, Rod Pampling went 17 strokes higher here. Balls trickling off the new tabletop-style Royal Pines greens and down into deep chipping swales became a regular occurrence.
None of which bothered Lombard, who described the round as his best "professional" round for its dearth of errors.
"I got a nice rhythm on Wednesday on the range and kept it flowing through," Lombard said. "As I turned pro exactly a year ago - November last year - I think it's my first 'professional' round. It's bogey-free, I kept it in the right spots and really minimised my mistakes. I was in the trees once on, I think it was the 6th if I must be corrected, in the trees, hit it next to the green and holed an amazing chip shot just to keep the momentum going. All round, it's definitely one of my better rounds I've played."
The softly spoken South African covered the more difficult back nine with eight pars and a birdie at the 17th. Further birdies flowed at the 2nd and 3rd holes before the 'escape' birdie at the 6th. Lombard found his fifth and final subpar hole on the par-5 9th, his last hole of the day.
Among the group tied for seventh at a highly respectable even-par are newly crowned PGA Tour of Australasia Player of the Year Matthew Millar, last year's Australian Masters champion Nick Cullen, this year's 54-hole Open Championship co-leader and now rookie professional Paul Dunne and another South African in Jacques Kruyswijk, who became an unfortunate internet sensation six weeks ago when he struck a shot in a Sunshine Tour event that ricocheted off a tree and into his nether regions. Eclectic indeed.
The most bizarre round of the day came from serial early pacesetter Todd Sinnott. When the Melburnian two-putted for birdie at the par-5 12th, he stood at six-under with a three-stroke lead. He found water off the next tee to begin a downward spiral of three double-bogeys in four holes. A birdie at the last moved Sinnott back to one stroke on the happy side of par as he made no bogeys but those three doubles ruined a potentially spotless card.
John Senden, who began the week as equal favourite with Snedeker, shot a one-over 73 in the worst of the wind and early rain. Adapting to the wind and remaining careful on the greens were foremost in his mind.
"The ball wasn't travelling very far so it made it difficult, probably the first three or four holes with the rain," Senden said. "It looked like the wind was just gradually building and building, making it much more difficult. So I had to really control the ball flight.
"What I noticed, even on the last couple of holes, is that the ball was almost a chance of getting windblown - not off the green but a chance to move it off [its resting place] on the green. So you had to be very careful when you addressed the ball that the ball wasn't moving."
More strong winds are forecast for tomorrow, although not nearly as strong as those of today. Which turn this Australian PGA Championship takes is unknown but between the ground conditions and the weather, the early indications are there are further surprises in store.