The 2019 World Cup of Golf is Belgium’s to lose. Thomas Detry and Thomas Pieters combining brilliantly for a nine-under-par round of 63 at Metropolitan on Saturday to lead by five shots from Mexico, Korea and Italy. With Australia a further shot back.
Playing in the final group of the day alongside Korean pair Si Woo Kim and Byeong Hun An, who shared the lead after two rounds, Pieters and Detry went bogey-free around the course considered among the best conditioned in the country, the duo firing seven birdies and an eagle at the par-5 9th to lift their tournament total to 19-under.
“The first two par-5s go us going and that was pretty good,” Detry said on Saturday. “We were making some good putts. And it’s always nice when your partner’s playing some great golf, it gives you a lot of confidence and you can play some pretty free golf.”
In an event where strategy is often seriously discussed and meticulously planned by some, the Belgian combination are taking a more casual approach. Pieters telling the media after their second round of 63 in four-ball play on Saturday how they chose which player would play first on each tee. The two Thomas’s hoping their relaxed approach will help them succeed in the foursomes format on Sunday, where they will attempt to claim their country’s first team title at the World Cup and second ever win, with Flory Van Donck claiming individual honours in 1960.
“We threw a tee on the first tee on the first day, so there’s no strategy, and it pointed at me so I went first,” Pieters said of the process the duo went through to decide who would play first.
“Walking up to that first tee, when you see the trophy, it’s just unbelievable,” Detry added. “You see all those names on there … It’s pretty amazing. Having our name on the board and on the trophy and bringing it back to Belgium.”
Pieters has World Cup experience on the Melbourne Sandbelt, partnering with Nicolas Colsaerts to finish T13 in 2016 at Kingston Heath. And while Detry lacks the same competitive background representing his country his partner, and good friend, Pieters was quick to remind him he makes a good front runner.
“You won on the Challenge Tour by 12. Give yourself some credit,” Pieters joked when Detry suggested he had never held a final round lead.
The duo’s combination of aggression from Pieters and calmness from Detry also seeming to help tame the unpredictable Melbourne weather that has caused other teams so much trouble. With the younger player’s level head perhaps rubbing off on Pieters.
Right: Team Australia, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith, discuss strategy during the third round at Metropolitan. PHOTO: Scott Barbour/Getty Images.
“I tend to be pretty relaxed, but I mean, when I play with him this week, he seems very – I guess not much went wrong, but he seems to be a very enjoyable partner,” Detry said.
“You play on a team, it’s different, there’s no reason to get mad,” Pieters added. And I said at the beginning of the week, never say sorry when you play as a team. We’re both trying our hardest and everybody’s going to hit bad golf shots.”
Of the chasing pack at 14-under, Mexico, who will tee it up in the final group for the fourth round, appeared the most likely to pose a problem for Belgium during the later stages of Saturday’s best-ball play. Recent Australian Open champion Abraham Ancer continuing his love affair with Australia after dominating the field at The Lakes last week. This time alongside close friend Roberto Diaz.
“It’s been a really good two weeks obviously,” Ancer said of his time in Australia. “Had a great time in Sydney, played some good golf, and I think it’s continuing here with my good friend and we are having some fun out there. I think we’re doing our job really well and we’re playing some good golf.”
Whereas Italy and Korea mixed occasional flashes of brilliance with poor play during round three, the Mexican team managed to keep dropped shots of their card, and are one of the few teams in the field to benefit from the advantage of previous tournament experience together. Diaz and Ancer pairing up at this year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
“I think our trust in each other is pretty high, so I trust his game, he trusts mine,” Diaz said. “The way the format works tomorrow, it sets up for us because I hit a bunch of drivers and he’s a great iron player, so the key tomorrow will be having a bunch of birdie looks. So yeah, I think we’re right in there and excited for tomorrow.”
Home favourites Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith were much improved on their Friday foursomes showing, but may have cost themselves the chance of World Cup glory during the miserable conditions of the second round, the Australian pairs seven-under round of 65 leaving them six shots adrift of the lead.
Despite the big deficit, Leishman and Smith, who are level with England, remained positive after round three that could have been at least one shot better. Smith’s approach to the final hole ricocheting of the flag and rolling back to the front of the green.
“Just as I hit a good shot, I got a bit unlucky, but that’s just golf for you,” Smith said of the approach to. 18. “Probably would have spun back in there to a few feet.”
“We’re both hitting some great shots,” Leishman added. “We’ve both hit a couple of bad shots here and there, but over four rounds in any tournament, even when you win tournaments you hit bad shots. We’re playing good enough to have a good day tomorrow.
“They (Belgium) could play well tomorrow and we could play very well, or it could be the other way around.”
If the local team are to reel in the countries in front of them and challenge for the title, they will have to combine better than on Friday when they dropped eight shots and struggled with the constant rain and blustery conditions. Leishman acknowledging the home crowd support as a potentially game changing advantage in their favour and the hope that some more tough weather could help negate Belgium’s advantage.
“I mean not quite that volatile, but I think if it was like it was today, it would be nice,” Leishman said of the weather. I think whatever the conditions do, foursomes is such a hard game … you never know, a bit of wind wouldn’t hurt.
“It would be great if we could get the crowd into it. I mean I don’t think we need it to get ourselves up, I think more so to get the guys behind us thinking about it. If we get the fanatics roaring, and friends and family, a lot of people supporting us.”
The Belgian team having their own vocal support crew of Pieters’ parents and others that they too hope get them over the line at Metropolitan on Sunday.
“My parents were in Dubai last week as well, so we make, a bi-annual thing to do Dubai and here. It’s lovely he’s (Pieters father) here. It’s nice to have some support from home.”