A tournament organiser’s dream unfolded during the first round of the World Super 6 Perth on Thursday. With local favourite Brett Rumford leading main drawcard Lee Westwood and James Nitties by one shot.
Defending champion Rumford displayed his fondness for the Lake Karrinyup once again playing alongside Westwood and his compatriot Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnson in the morning side of the field.
With Johnston adding to the excitement with an eagle two at the 10th hole to start his round before a disastrous nine at the 2nd dropped him back, eventually finishing one-over.
“I just think there's some golf courses just fit your eye, just suit your eye and others don't,” Rumford said. “It's not always the case, but generally you find as a trend that a lot of players go back and play well when they've had a lot of good performances there, and this is one of them.”
The West Australian made 10 birdies and two bogeys to sign for an eight-under 64. And his round could have been even better, with the 40-year-old missing a birdie chance at the 9th, his 18th hole, that would have tied the course record.
“I'm leading, I'm inside the top 24 and that's my only focus this week is finish inside that number whether I lead the qualifying again, that would be a nice bonus but it's not my priority this week and I'm playing accordingly, too,” Rumford said after his round. “Lee was playing great golf, steady like he normally does, and the greens were rolling nicely so if you got the ball on line rolling, if you got it to the hole, there's no deviation to the greens.”
Rumford’s previous two starts in 2018 wouldn’t have filled him with much confidence as he prepared to defend his sixth European Tour title in his home state. But some time spent with coach Gary Barter on Wednesday seems to have done the trick to reinvigorate his long game, which combined with his sublime short game skills almost perfectly on Thursday.
“Same, same, just nice to see a little bit of the progression and the transfer of what's happening on the golf course and what I'm doing, the drill work that I'm doing at home in my golf room, sort of it starts to translate and starting to come to fruition out on the golf course,” the West Australian said of the focus of his time with Barter. “I've swung it poorly my whole life, so this is just really retraining those kinds of things. It's difficult to do at 40, but I'm trying. Never stop trying.”
His unbending commitment to his craft is one of the characteristics of Rumford that set him apart from the pack, his brutal honesty about his game and other worldly short game skills doing likewise. With Rumford even impressing himself with the quality of shot he was able to conjure up from a horrible plugged lie in a bunker at the par-5 3rd hole.
“Yeah, I did actually,” he said when asked if he surprised himself with the shot. “Yeah, these new bunkers, I'm not used to seeing them plug in the lips, there's just a little bit of settling for the new bunkers to happen over time, but it was a bad shot so I deserved to be punished.”
While Rumford is renowned for his work around and on the greens, his playing partner and one of his nearest pursuers, Westwood, is known for his clinical ball striking and can be sometimes a little questionable closer to the putting surface.
Thursday was no different for the man from Worksop, with Westwood hitting 16 greens in regulation, the same number as Rumford, and converting five birdies and an eagle. With the Englishman admitting he felt he left shots out on the Perth layout.
“Six-under is a nice start to the week,” Westwood said after his round before taking a helicopter ride to Rottnest Island. “I think it's the kind of format where you don't really want to be chasing. If you can get out to a fast start, I think everybody's just trying to make the top 24 for the final day.
“I played great today without holing any putts. It was a nice chip on the par 5 15th, but other than that, I gave myself a lot of chances, it could have been a lot less. I hit a lot of good putts today that just didn't go in, so just waiting for them to go in.”
If Westwood manages to get his putter working he will likely pose one of the biggest threats to Rumford’s aspirations for back-to-back titles. And the same could be said for Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who was a late entry into the field and looked hell bent on chasing down Rumford in the afternoon. Starting his first round with five birdies in the opening six holes.
Aphibarnrat couldn’t keep the momentum going however, making a solitary birdie on the back nine at the par-5 11th to finish one back of Westwood at five-under-par, similarly with a cold putter to blame.
“I got a really decent start, five birdies in the first six holes, which it surprised me a little bit. I didn't know the course. But I really enjoy it, the golf course is fantastic, Aphibarnrat said after his round. “I'm using all the putt on the front nine so on the back missed couple putt, but I think I'm rolling ball well on the greens, just couple bad reads or misread.”
Sitting one in front of Aphibarnrat, is Australian journeyman James Nitties, who threw his name in the ring as the sun was going down on Thursday.
The New South Welshman making five birdies starting at the first hole, his 10th, to find himself at seven-under with two holes to play. Before a disappointing bogey at the par-3 8th halted his charge. With Nitties making a par at his last hole to finish tied with Westwood and overall happy with his day in difficult afternoon condtions.
“It was good to feel good out there and make some birdie putts, and yeah, we got a perfect day so it was great,” Nitties said.
“It definitely wasn't the Fremantle Doctor. The toughest thing about it was trying to pick which way the wind was going. It wasn't that it was gusty or strong, it was just you throw some grass up, it would hit you in the face and the next it would go downwind. So I think that was the difficult part. The newer greens are a lot firmer, so just making that adjustment was difficult towards the end.”
Behind Nitties and Westwood and alongside Aphibarnrat is a host of well credentialed players. The majority of who completed their rounds in the morning when scoring was easier, including local hope Jason Scrivener, whose game continues to improve after his maiden win at the 2017 NSW Open and like Westwood and Aphibarnrat believed he left shots out there.
“It was a funny day, got off to a pretty slow start,” Scrivener said. “Obviously saw what Brett was doing and Lee were doing up front, kind of made it feel even worse, but happy with it. As easy as it's ever going to play out here. I'm not disappointed with 5 under, but definitely there's a really low one out there today.”
Despite feeling that he didn’t take full advantage of the conditions Scrivener was optimistic, with the unique format of the event meaning leading the stroke play is primarily a confidence boost heading into Sunday.
“I think as long as you're in that top 8, that's the main thing,” he said. “Obviously top 24, but nice to be in the top 8 to get a buy the first round.”
Of the other players lurking at five-under, those at the top will perhaps be keeping an eye on Wade Ormsby above all, who managed his 67 in the afternoon and is fresh off his maiden European Tour victory in late 2017 at the Hong Kong Open.
“Definitely happy with that one this afternoon,” Ormsby said. You never know with the wind over here in the afternoon whether you get caught up. The wind got up the last 12, 13 holes, and yeah, I played pretty solid.”
While there is still plenty of golf to be played at Lake Karrinyup, and the Super 6 format has the potential to throw up a surprise result, the men many would have hoped to be at the top of the leaderboard are right there. Meaning the fans will be joining the three co-sanctioning Tours in their excitement after day one in Perth.
The prospect of a showdown between the defending champion Rumford and the former World No.1 Westwood in one of the world’s most unique tournaments on Sunday afternoon, almost too good to even dream of at the start of the week.