New South Welshman Scott Arnold blew the field away with a scintillating eight-under-par opening round to capture the lead at Rosebud Country Club on Thursday.
Arnold, his playing partner Momoka Kobori and fellow New South Welshman Josh Armstrong were the clear standouts in the afternoon groups as the Mornington Peninsula’s notoriously gusty sea breeze took hold of the composite course.
The 2012 Vic Open champion moved one stroke clear of Queensland PGA champion Anthony Quayle who was the best of the morning group with his round of 63 that included eight birdies and an eagle, while Armstrong joined Quayle in a share of second at seven-under.
New Zealander Kobori drew level with the impressive 17-year-old amateur Jeneath Wong and Victorian Blake Collyer at six-under-par.
The day belonged to 36-year-old Arnold however, whose artistry overcame the testing conditions.
He began his day on the tenth and rapidly surged up the leaderboard with six back nine birdies including five consecutive birdies from holes 14 to 18.
It was not all smooth sailing as his momentum began to wane throughout the front nine.
He stepped up to the par-5 seventh having made no further progress since the turn – he remained at five-under – but from there something clicked.
Arnold launched a long bomb off the tee and followed it up with an excellent approach to give himself a look at eagle.
The putter has been his friend all day and there was no exception here as the putt dropped to clinch a share of the lead.
A par at the next meant he had one more chance to stand alone at the top and once again the flatstick delivered.
A nice approach shot left him with a delicate mid-range putt that a local official said everyone had been sliding past the hole all day, but Arnold was different to everyone else today.
The line was spot on, the speed was perfect and the ball fell into the bottom of the cup.
“I played pretty solid all day so I’m pretty pleased,” Arnold said.
“It was pretty tough out there at times. Very gusty the breeze but the course is still pretty playable. I hit the ball pretty well and controlled my ball pretty well. I gave myself a lot of opportunities and I putted pretty well today.
“That was probably the difference. Holing a few putts here and there. In the last couple of weeks, that’s where I’ve played pretty well but not scored well. To actually hole a few putts and score well is a nice feeling.”
Armstrong, fresh off a tie for fourth at the Queensland PGA, continued his good form to card six birdies and an eagle in his round of 64.
The 22-year-old teed off in one of the last groups of the day meaning he had to face the strongest winds but he never looked back after an early slip up courtesy of a bogey at the second.
He proceeded to make four front birdies, before a birdie at the 15th and an eagle 16th put him right into the mix.
In the same group as the leader, Kobori, another 22-year-old, did her best to make her scorecard just as colourful as his with two eagles on the par-5 seventh and 16th.
Kobori, who hails from the Canterbury region on New Zealand’s South Island, has come across the Tasman to play the WPGA Tour of Australasia season after being confined to her home country during the pandemic.
“I arrived a couple of weeks ago now. I first played the WPGA Melbourne International at Latrobe. I came in a few days before that. It’s really nice to be able to travel overseas now and play all these different tournaments,” she said.
She has triumphed in mixed events previously – having won Whitford Park Pro Am in Auckland last year against the likes of New Zealand’s top-ranked male golfer, Ryan Fox – and today again showed that she relishes the format.
“It was pretty windy out there. Managed to hit the ball pretty well. Drove most of the fairways which was quite good and I managed to sink a couple of putts here and there,” she said.
“I managed to have a couple of eagles out there which really helped and that doesn’t happen very often.
“It was quite good to see the two of us (Arnold and herself) make a few birdies. Definitely great to see him hole a few putts out there.”
Earlier in the day, Quayle picked up where he left off at Nudgee Golf Club two weeks ago, while Wong captured the spotlight as she showed some of the nation’s best why she has caught the attention of so many throughout her dominant junior career.