Canberra's Matthew Millar leads the UNIQLO Masters at Huntingdale by a shot after 36-hole co-leaders Adam Scott and Peter Wilson tumbled off the leaderboard
BY BRENDAN JAMES
THE FINAL pairing of any weekend round at a tournament is worth following because you can be guaranteed of seeing shots and putts that you can only dream of emulating.
Most of the third round UNIQLO Masters gallery was at Huntingdale to get a glimpse of Adam Scott continuing his rule at the top of the leaderboard. His playing partner, Victorian Peter Wilson, had a share of the lead with consecutive rounds of 67. He added a hint of spice to their Saturday meeting by confessing Scott did not “intimidate him, no matter how well he hits the ball.”
The fans expected a shoot out between the World No.12 and the in-form journeyman pro. It was a duel that never transpired. Both Scott and Wilson bogied the par-4 1st hole and it was all downhill from there. In a matchplay situation, Scott would have claimed the match after 16 holes. For the record, the two-time UNIQLO Masters Champion finished with a 77, and Wilson carded an 80.
The pair were beaten up by the spiritual home of the Masters. There were just two birdies between them for the round. In fact, each scored 13 shots worse for their third round than their best effort around the par-71 already this week.
There were more wayward tee shots for Scott, the same that crept into his game when he was five shots clear of the field midway through the second round. Playing a layout like Huntingdale, even a slightly misdirected tee shot can bound into the trees or, even worse, the ti-tree.
Only eight golfers fired sub par third rounds such was difficulty of the Huntingdale layout. That said, Scott still gives himself a chance of overcoming the five-shot deficit between him and 54-hole leader, Matthew Millar, but he will have to emulate his opening round 64 to be any real chance of winning a third gold jacket.
Even if Scott does go low, there are no guarantees he can supplant Millar out in front. The 39-year-old is having one of his best years ever as a professional, having won the NZ PGA Championship earlier this year and backing that up with eight top-10s on the PGA Tour of Australasia.
The Canberran says it was a trip back to Qualifying School at the end of 2014, after losing his card, which has motivated his performances this year.
“It was a big kick in the pants last year after losing my card for the first time in a long time, probably since about '02 or '03 or something,” Millar said.
“The win obviously helped but I think the three weeks prior to the win was equally as important, and that's given me the self‑belief.
“There's still things that go on in a golfer's mind, but it's been a really good year. I just got back to what I do best. I don't hit it that far but just sort of sticking to the way I play golf and not worrying about what other people do. My short game's been pretty tidy this year, so it's been good.”
Millar said his experiences thus far in 2015 will help him heading into the final round as the tournament leader.
“The thing to me is I can't expect to turn up tomorrow and not play my best,” he said. “I think I'm going to have to play my best to win it, because no one's going to hand it back to you.
“You've got guys like John Senden, Pete Senior, he's won a thousand titles. All these fellas, these guys are pretty hungry to have a crack, as well. I'll have to get rested and go through it all again, one by one tomorrow.
In between tournaments on the Australian Tour, Millar has been coaching out of the Gold Creek Country Clun in Canberra. One of his students, professional Andrew Evans, will be playing with Millar in the final group on Sunday after shooting a one under 70 to be six under and one behind Millar.
Millar and Evans, teacher and pupil, played alongside each other in the third round and while there was banter between the pair there were no lengthy conversations.
“We didn't really chat that much,” Millar smiled. “Just here and there.
“And I purposely just – I've got my game to play. I'm interested in what they do, but I won't get a better opportunity to win an Australian Masters I don't think.
“I'm watching what I do. But we had a couple little chats that had nothing to do with golf really. Yeah, I just let him go. But yeah, it would be good to play with him again tomorrow. I don't mind who I play with to be honest.
If Millar can hold out the likes of Senden, evergreen Peter Senior and Michael Sim – all at five under – it will turn his dream of winning a ‘big event’ on home soil into reality.
“In terms of Australian golf for me, I've grown up watching it here at Huntingdale and listening to Jack (Newton) and Sandy (Roberts) doing their thing,” Millar said. Watched a lot of past champions and played with them and now played against them and so on.
“To me, not selling the Australian Open short at all, another great event. But there's something about playing in Melbourne, playing in front of these crowds, playing these wonderful golf courses. Yeah, it would mean a hell of a lot to win the Masters.”