Matthew Giles has no idea what future career path he’ll take, but tonight he will sleep on the lead of a prestigious co-sanctioned tournament where victory would give him a year-long exemption on the European Tour.
The 27-year-old has almost completed a Master of Commerce degree that he hopes will allow him to foster dual careers. Giles (pictured above) is mindful, however, that the road forward might divert sharply with a high finish at the Fiji International. This is just the seventh tournament start in 2016 for the Sydneysider, pro-ams aside, as he juggles a heavy, if diverse, workload. Giles capitalised on fairly benign conditions in the morning to card a second-round 66 that complemented his opening 67. He sits at 11-under, one clear of tournament drawcard Brandt Snedeker and first-round leader Anthony Houston at 10-under.
The highlight of the round for Giles was a holed 9-iron for an eagle 2 at the uphill par-4 8th hole. He made seven birdies on top of that eagle, as the Natadola Bay layout yielded 14 sub-70 scores on Friday. Less than 24 hours after Houston matched the course record of 65, New Zealand’s Gareth Paddison compiled an eight-birdie 64 to lower the mark. The leader credited a cautious strategy and a sharp short game for his start.
“I played solid,” Giles said. “I hit a few wayward shots but managed to still limit the damage. Around here, depending upon weather conditions, there are holes that definitely offer birdie chances. At the same time, there are holes where you just want to make your par and get out. I’ve played fairly conservatively off the tee just to try to keep the ball in play, while my short game’s been really good – it’s probably been my best part so far, chipping and putting.”
Giles’ continuation of the tertiary study he began while attending the University of Southern California, where he achieved two-time ‘All-American’ status while studying business administration, stemmed from a desire to not become bogged down by the travel and suitcase-and-hotel life of a touring professional. He’ll complete the current phase of his degree at the end of the year before taking a specialised route. The 2006 World Junior and 2013 Victorian Open champion says he still practises while studying and plays pro-am events if time permits, but exactly where his degree might take him remains an uncharted course.
“I just wanted to do something in addition to golf,” said Giles, who played in the 2014 Fiji International but didn’t return last year. “I’ve got my status here in Australia and I’m still planning on playing all the bigger events, but obviously our schedule is fairly spread out throughout the year. You’ve got events on at the start of the year and then events at the end, but then you’ve got that midpoint where unless you’re travelling overseas you can do other things. So I just wanted to do some other stuff … Having an outlet away from golf has been really good.
“I’m very passionate about sports, I’d love to work in the sporting industry in some capacity. I’m good with numbers so maybe the finance route, but I honestly don’t know.”
“I’m very passionate about sports, I’d love to work in the sporting industry in some capacity. I’m good with numbers so maybe the finance route, but I honestly don’t know.” Matthew Giles
While Giles says he’s “more than content playing ten events a year” and seeing where academia takes him, he wouldn’t turn down an exemption in Europe that victory in Fiji would bring.
“It just comes down to what accessibility you have and what exemptions you have. If you played well this week or at the Aussie PGA, one of those co-sanctioned events, and you happened to have a card over there, then obviously I’d play, of course. If I got back onto a tour like that, then so be it, but it’s nice having normality and waking up in the same bed in Sydney over a period of time. This is my seventh year as a pro and I’ve seen a lot of airplanes, a lot of hotel rooms and it’s nice to just have a little bit of a break from that.”
Snedeker, whose most recent appearance on the PGA Tour of Australasia included an 84 to open last year’s Australian PGA Championship, didn’t drop a shot in shooting 65 to draw within a stroke of Giles. The World No.23 will play alongside 880th-ranked Giles in the final group tomorrow, aiming to emulate countryman Matt Kuchar’s success in Fiji last October.
“Another really good day today,” said Snedeker, who bettered by two strokes the 5-under target he set for himself waking up this morning. “I drove the ball fantastic, had a lot of opportunities. I’m pretty happy with the way I played. I didn’t make a bogey, which anytime you do that you’re doing something right.”
Plenty more Australian players also did something right. Behind Giles, Snedeker and Houston sits Jake Higginbottom at 8-under, Aaron Pike at 7-under and five more players at 6-under and a further four at 5-under. Among the other notable entrants, Boo Weekley shot 72 to be 3-under, while Heath Slocum carded a 73 to fall to 1-under and Vijay Singh shot 75 to sit 1-over, the same 36-hole mark as inaugural Fiji International winner Steven Jeffress. Steven Bowditch missed the cut at 11-over and Robert Allenby made just his second cut of the year to be 1-under, as 76 players progressed to the weekend with a score of 3-over or better.
The weather could prove the pivotal player across the weekend. Stronger winds, rain and storms are forecast for Natadola, which could make the 11-under halfway lead score a cherished mark come Sunday night.