Familiarity with the delights of the desert has helped propel Sydney’s Austin Bautista to a one-stroke lead on day one of the CKB WA PGA Championship at Kalgoorlie Golf Course in Western Australia.
Bautista’s bogey-free round of eight-under 64 provides the 25-year-old with a one-shot buffer heading into Round 2, fellow New South Welshman Josh Armstrong posting seven-under 65, Louis Dobbelaar (66) third and a group of five players three shots off the lead following rounds of five-under 67.
Given that his father is American, Bautista splits his time between Australia and his U.S. base in San Francisco.
He has spent much of the past two years playing mini Tours in the U.S. including a host on the desert courses for which Arizona is famous, providing some frame of reference for what he is faced with in the WA desert.
Five years since his lone appearance at Kalgoorlie, Bautista thrived in the dramatic desert landscape as he chases a breakthrough ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia victory.
“You see the red dirt when you first roll up and you’re like, ‘Where’s the golf course?’ and then it’s pretty good when you’re on it,” said Bautista, who praised the presentation of the Graham Marsh-designed layout.
RIGHT: Big hitting Josh Armstrong sits in second alone, he is one shot back of leader Austin Bautista. PHOTO: Andy Cheung/Getty Images.
“I play a bit in Arizona and it is quite 'deserty' but this course is different because in Arizona it’s just pure gravel where here you have some good lies.
“If you miss the fairway you can hit it on some hard pan on the dirt but sometimes, you’re in some big crevices and those aren’t too good.
“It’s so cool coming to play this course once a year because we don’t get the chance to play anything like this.”
Confident on the back of a round of nine-under in Wednesday’s pro-am, Bautista credited a par save on his penultimate hole for his most satisfying putt of the day, ruing some missed chances from close range to go even lower.
“I had a good opportunity at the last to make another birdie but unfortunately didn’t make that one,” said Bautista, who has three top-10 finishes this season.
“I missed a four-footer on No.2 as well, so I was kind of kicking myself. I felt like I could have got a few more but I was happy with eight-under.
“The 17th I made a 12-foot putt for par so that one felt the best. Out of all the birdies that I made, to save par there felt really good.
“I hit a lot of good shots today and made a lot of good putts but that one, because I was saving par and because it would have been such a kick in the ass if I had made bogey, I was happy to make par and save that one.”
The backbone of Armstrong’s round of seven-under was a four-hole stretch early in his round where he went five-under to put Bautista’s morning best well within range.
“I had a good opportunity at the last to make another birdie but unfortunately didn’t make that one. I missed a four-footer on No.2 as well, so I was kind of kicking myself. I felt like I could have got a few more but I was happy with eight-under." - Austin Bautista.
Starting with a birdie at the 404-metre par-4 fourth, Armstrong added an eagle at the par-5 fifth and birdies at seven and eight in a scorching run through the desert, further birdies at 11 and 12 rounding out a brilliant opening round on debut in Kalgoorlie.
A chaotic par at the final hole where his tee shot didn’t travel 75 metres was not part of the plan but, like Bautista, a par save kept his card bogey-free.
“I really don’t like that tee shot for some reason,” was all Armstrong could do to explain his final drive.
“I actually hit what I thought was a good third shot which went over the back of the green and then holed a 20-footer to finish.
“I actually thought I hit my tee shot too far left (on five) but then ‘Swanno’ (rules official Russell Swanson) said ‘Great drive’.
“I only had 8-iron in for my second, hit it to 10 feet and rolled it in.
“I had no idea what to think when I came out here but it’s a really nice contrast with the red dirt and the grass, it’s really cool.”
Currently sixth on the Order of Merit, Dobbelaar can greatly enhance his chances of snaring a DP World Tour card over the coming three days.
Victorian David Micheluzzi is in the group at five-under, level with Kiwi Ryan Chisnall and veterans Scott Strange, Peter Wilson and Michael Wright and one clear of a group of nine players at four-under.