As Cameron Smith continued to add birdies and extend his lead in the third round of the Australian PGA Championship, clubhouse leader Matt Millar sat in the village occasionally glancing at the TV coverage and preparing for the final day.
Millar fired a bogey-free five-under 67 on Saturday to hold the lead in the clubhouse at seven-under, having also only one blemish on his scorecard during his second round on Friday.
Canberra-based Millar is among the most consistent local players and was awarded the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Player of the Year at Tuesday’s Greg Norman Medal dinner. And despite being one of the shortest hitters in the field at a Royal Pines layout that rewards length off the tee, the 2018 New Zealand Masters is right in the mix so long as Smith doesn’t run away with things by the end of today’s play.
“It was good, played pretty solid, as I have done each day actually tee-to-green,” Millar told Golf Australia of his third round. “Knocked a couple in, most of the birdies were pretty close range. So, nice to put a nice score on the board here, it’s pretty tough for me.
“Obviously you know you have to play really well and there is a long time left in today’s round, for guys like Cam and Leish and they are fantastic players. You just hope you’re not too far away tomorrow, not to wish them badly. I know for a fact I’ll have to play really well to beat these guys. But I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”
The suggestion that Millar will give winning the PGA his all will come as no surprise to anyone who knows the 42-year-old, or people who have watched him play. Millar having once again plotted his way around the par-72 on Saturday with precision and planning. The top-10 finisher at the Australian Open renowned on Tour as a player who gets more out of his physical abilities than most.
“It’s been part of the plan to make sure your fairways are up, obviously and your greens, give yourself some chances, that’s been a good part of it so far. I made a couple of errors on day one, just missing a couple of putts and didn’t quite happen. But yesterday I think it was the 16thI missed a short putt from about 6-feet for par and that was the only bogey, and kept them off there today as well.
“I think it’s easy to maybe look at the golf course and the design and blow up and say it isn’t what you’re used to, but unfortunately you don’t really have that luxury, you’ve got to get on with it and sort of find the best game plan you can. That’s sort of part of what I do well, I don’t hit it as far as these guys, I don’t tower it through the air unless I really want to. And quite often I’ll play a bunch of different shots, that’s definitely part of it, just trying to keep myself there, keep it play and keep control of the ball.”
Part of Millar’s ability to keep his ball in play, and make up for his distance deficiency against the rest of the field, has been due to a recent equipment change, that makes Millar’s bag look more like those of your average player teeing it up at Royal Pines on any other Saturday during the year. Rather than the clubs of one of Australia’s most consistent players in recent years.
“I put an extra hybrid in about seven or eight weeks ago, so that’s my 5-iron basically I’ve got a 3-, 4- and 5-iron as hybrids. Running out of irons,” Millar joked. “But just to able to get that ball flight up when you need it in the mid-range irons. I hit them quite well, I can hit them both ways, high and low, there are pretty versatile, which on these sort of courses, where the greens are the way they are with a lot of humps and bumps, and sections, sometimes you need your ball coming in low to release and sometimes you need it coming high to stop.”
If Millar is to challenge Smith and Leishman, who he sits seven and four shots behind respectively, he will need his hybrids to keep behaving. But the plan on how to attack the course will remain the same, as he looks to secure his biggest win having gone into almost semi-retirement a few years ago. And perhaps even a European Tour card.
“I was teaching ‘14, ‘15, ‘16 and well into ‘17, till the back of September. I was teaching and playing, the first year I didn’t do it very well,” Millar said. “I lost my card for the first time in 11 or 12 years or something, it put a rocket up me for 2015. Had an amazing ’15, won Player of the Year, and then I kept on with the teaching but the balance just wasn’t there for the family time. I thought well if I’m playing well, I better go back to playing. And it’s been good to come back and be full-time playing here now, and a little bit overseas in Europe and spend some time with the family. It’s been good.
“I wouldn’t play there all year though (in Europe) if that did happen, which is a long way off. Still got 18 great holes to play. I wouldn’t play there week in, week out. Sort of pick and choose, a lot of the courses they play now are a little bit more wide open than traditional, I found that difficult when I was there competing over there.”