Adam Scott got off to a slow start on Saturday at RACV Royal Pines but finished with a flurry to take the overnight lead on his own at the Australian PGA Championship. The Queenslander looking to end a nearly four year win drought on Sunday.
The 2013 winner made his lone bogey at the par-3 fifth, making the turn in even par after a birdie at the par-5 9th, before another at the 10th was followed by holing a long birdie putt in front of the slightly raucous crowd at the par-3 16th. The 39-year-old then hitting arguably his best shot of the day at the final hole, a pure 7-iron to four feet, setting up his fourth birdie to sign for a 69 and 10 under par total.
“Sometimes you just have a good number and I had one there, and the best thing was I made a good move at it and it all worked out,” Scott said of his approach to the 18th green. “You hope for that to happen, but you just never know. You've got to take advantage of it when it comes your way. This golf course can bite you, so it's important that you execute your shots well or you're down in the valleys of sin around these greens.”
RIGHT: Scott's close friend Wade Ormsby sits in second place on his own, one shot back of the Queenslander. PHOTO: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images.
Scott was noticeably animated after rolling in his putt at the 16th hole and sharing a nice moment with a young golfer Billy Dowling, who won the Adam Scott Junior Classic at Sanctuary Cove earlier this week and hit a tee shot at the par-3 with a chance to win $1 million if he were to make a hole-in-one. The 2013 Masters Champion and caddie John Limanti also excited after his approach to the last that will hold the combination in good stead to achieve their first win together and give Scott his first trophy since March 2016.
“I think he enjoyed that one, too,” Scott said of his American looper who formerly worked for Aaron Baddeley. “John has been caddying for me for a year now and I've played some good golf, but we've kind of been sneaking into contention. So this is I think a fun week for him, we're right in the mix and hitting those kind of shots. Even for me, that moment on 18, that's the kind of stuff you mess around as a kid thinking you're going to do, so it's always fun to stuff one on the last.
“I've tried really hard to keep my intensity up after last week, and my focus on the course. I've had a couple moments where I've wavered, but I've managed to pull it back together. It would be nice to cap off this year with a win here at home.”
Trailing Scott by one stroke is his friend since childhood and fellow son of a golf professional Wade Ormsby. The South Australian recording a bogey-free two under round of 70 to keep his chances of avenging his 2014 play-off loss to Greg Chalmers, where Scott also featured, alive.
“I put myself in perfect position going into Sunday, I guess,” Ormsby said.
“He's a class act, so he knows what he's doing out there, but at the same time, there's always time to have a chat depending on how we're both going,” he added of Scott. “But no, we have a good chat out there. At different times, you kind of know when each other wants to talk.”
Both Scott and Ormsby mentioned the trickiness of the golf course when speaking with the media after their third rounds, wind also a constant factor at the Gold Coast venue hosting the event for the sixth straight year.
“It's just tricky. Things dry out, the pins get harder to get at and it's harder to get the right club in your hand. The wind is kind of shifting around a little bit,” Ormsby said.
Sitting one shot further back are Min Woo Lee, Nick Flanagan, Kiwi Michael Hendry and China’s Yuan Yechun.
Lee, the younger brother of LPGA star Minjee, got off to a hot start on Saturday with three birdies on the front nine, the 21-year-old matching the effort on the back nine, where he mixed in two bogies for a third round 68. But of the pack at eight under, it was Flanagan who gained the most attention, the former US Amateur champion equalling the course record with a nine under 63 early on the third day.
“It was kind of out of the blue. The first two days I was really struggling, especially the first day. Found something a little bit on the back nine for my second nine yesterday and actually played really well, just had a couple of three putts that kind of kept me on the cut line,” Flanagan said.
“Till Saturday I missed the last two cuts in a row and just went out and didn't play with any pressure on myself. Wasn't trying to make a ton of birdies, was just trying to get it on the greens and kind of give myself putts today, and I tended to hit it closer than I had the last two days and I made all the putts.”
Flanagan is currently without significant status on any Tour around the world, a win in the European Tour co-sanctioned Australian PGA a potentially big boost for the expectant father’s career.
“I've got conditional past champion status on the Korn Ferry Tour, which doesn't get me any starts, but I can re rank if I get into an event. I went to European Q School, got to final stage but didn't do any good, so I got like really bad Challenge Tour status,” the 35-year-old said.
“It all helps. It's been a rough kind of month and I haven't been playing very good golf, so it was good to get it today. Got a baby due in the beginning of January, so that's kind of where my mind is at the moment.”
One shot worse than Flanagan on Saturday morning was Spaniard Alejandro Canizares, whose eight under 64 drew him level with Ormsby’s fellow Adelaide product Nick Cullen, while two-time defending champion Cameron Smith lies three shots further back and in need of something special if he is to join Dan Soutar as the only player with three Australian PGA Championship wins.
“Try and get out with a bit of a hot start,” Smith said of his plans for Sunday’s final round. “Those first five or six holes, really the whole front nine, you can really get going if you're hitting if good. Plenty of opportunities, plenty of wedges and the putts just need to go in. So there's opportunity there to apply some pressure, it just needs to turn on.”
With plenty of well credentialed chasers behind him, Scott knows the tournament is far from over as he sleeps on the 54-hole lead. But with the quality of his play this week and clear determination to break his winning duck, it would take a brave person to bet against him putting a second Kirkwood Cup in his trophy cabinet come Sunday afternoon.
“It's incredibly bunched, and if it's windy tomorrow, it's going to be hard for anyone to really separate themselves unless they just play an incredible round of golf, go out there and roll in a lot of putts,” Scott said. “For me, my strategy's going to be the same. Unless I hole a lot of long putts, I don't see myself just running away with this thing. I'm in for a fight tomorrow.”