The guiding hand of his father and a PGA Tour reality check has positioned Sydney’s John Lyras to push for a breakthrough professional win when the Moonah Links PGA Classic concludes at Moonah Links on Thursday.
The possibility of border closures has prompted ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia officials to play the final two rounds on Thursday with groups of two to play in a cart, the third round to commence at 7.15am and the final round at 11.45am AEDT.
It means Lyras will only have to sleep on the lead for one more night after following up his six-under 66 in the first round with a composed and patient five-under 67 on Wednesday to be 11 under at the halfway mark.
The 24-year-old is three shots clear of a group of five players at eight under, Justin Warren (69), James Marchesani (67), Maverick Antcliff (69), Peter Wilson (65) and Ryan McCarthy (67) all in position to make a charge over the final 36 holes.
Wilson’s seven-under 65 made the greatest impression on the leaderboard late on Wednesday but the round of the day belonged to NT PGA champion Aaron Pike, the Queenslander firing off four birdies in succession from the 2nd hole and closing with an eagle to bounce back from a 76 on day one with an eight-under 64 to be tied for 25th.
A birdie on his opening hole settled whatever nerves Lyras may have felt being in the unfamiliar position of tournament front-runner and from that point he set about picking off opportunities as they presented themselves.
"Just had to stay really patient and let the golf course come to me and let the scoring opportunities come when they did,” said Lyras, who only two weeks ago made his first cut as a professional at The Players Series Victoria.
"I feel like if I can play the par-5s well and birdie three or four of them and maybe hit a couple in tight and then you roll in a bomb, there’s seven birdies in a round of golf.
"As long as you can keep the bad stuff off the card, generally you can put a pretty good score together and around Moonah Links I think that works quite well."
When he qualified to play in the 2019 Wyndham Championship on the PGA Tour Lyras made the snap decision to turn professional and was issued a stark reminder of what it would take to one day be successful.
"I was hitting balls between Jordan Spieth and Sungjae Im before Round 2,” Lyras recalled.
“It was amazing to me how perfectly Jordan strikes his wedges and how perfectly struck the ball-flight and trajectory was with Sungjae and his driver. It just showed to me that I still had work to do, that I still have a long way to go before I can reach that level.”
In addition to his swing coach John Serhan and mental performance coach John Novak, Lyras believes it is the patient approach of his father Peter that has given him the foundation to handle whatever the game throws at him.
“We have a lot of really great conversations about our golf,” Lyras said. “I’ve got a really great team around me but at the end of the day Dad’s probably the most important of all.
“The things he’s taught me are finally rubbing off a bit. Hopefully I can do him proud over the next two days.”
A 20-year veteran on Tour, Wilson came within one of his career low round of 64 in moving into a tie for second, bouncing back from a bogey on his opening hole with six birdies and an eagle at the par-5 15th.
“I didn’t putt very well in the first round and today I was actually hitting them where I wanted to,” Wilson explained.
“These greens are very similar to my home club at Cranbourne so I can read the greens here quite well. The first round I wasn’t hitting it on my lines but today I hit them on my line.
"Because we haven’t been playing for a year I had a lot of anxiety problems at the first event and then last week at the Vic PGA I was coming top five after the first round and then had one bad hole and missed the cut by one.
“It’s taken me a few tournaments to get through it but I felt normal again out here today.”
Top-20 at both The Players Series Victoria and the Vic PGA, Victorian James Marchesani is once again in position to contend and believes three weeks of tournament golf have sharpened his game to the point where he can push forward for a win.
“As the weeks have gone on and we’ve built into more rounds I’ve felt the game getting a bit sharper as each round went on,” said Marchesani, who bolstered his chances by making two birdies and an eagle in his final four holes on Wednesday.
“That gets the rust thing off. Not having played any competitive golf in close to 11 months, it was bound to happen. Just keeping on top of it and trying to stay patient with it.
“I’m in a good position now and the game feels reasonably sharp. There are still a few things I’d like to clean up but in a good position going forward.”