A sunny, albeit windy, morning greeted the early field for the commencement of the 103rd Australian Open at The Lakes, before a Scottish Open broke out in the afternoon. Blustery winds and drizzling rain making scoring difficult for the second half of the draw.
American based South Korean Ben An one of the morning players to benefit from the better conditions, posting a five under round of 67 to hold the lead on his own at the conclusion of day one.
“When I started, it was nice and I guess sunny. It was a little breezy, but it wasn't that bad, it was playable,” An said of the conditions. “Then got to the last hole and it came out of nowhere, it starts blowing a little harder and it started raining a little bit. So glad I finished before all this came.
“I got here late. I was supposed to get here Monday, but I got here Tuesday and didn't get to hit balls for like three, four days because all the travels and stuff. Because what I shot today, like I'm quite happy with it.”
Chasing An is a pack of eight players within two shots, comprised of Mexican Abraham Ancer and seven home hopes led by Matt Jager and amateur David Micheluzzi, one shot off the pace.
Micheluzzi has made a habit of finding himself close to the lead in professional events of late and despite admitting to nerves playing in his maiden Australian Open, he produced one of the best rounds of the day in the most trying conditions.
“I was nervy the first couple holes, I hit a few little heel fades in the first couple tee shots,” Micheluzzi said. “Was fortunate enough to hit another heel fade on the second and put myself to about six feet and I holed it, so settled the nerves a little bit.
“I'm from Melbourne, this is nothing really. The wind is just like Melbourne as well. Really felt like I was back in Melbourne, which is great.”
Micheluzzi’s round was built on solid play from tee-to-green, with the lone blemish on the 22-year-old’s card coming at the par-5 14th, where he found the water fronting the green with a 3-wood, one of only three greens the Victorian missed in regulation.
Fresh off a T14 at the NSW Open last week and a recent runner-up at the Western Australian equivalent event, Micheluzzi acknowledged a new found comfort playing alongside the professionals helped him find his feet at The Lakes after a nervous strike on the opening hole he estimated only travelled around 220 metres.
“I think Fiji was probably a good starting point with the cameras and all that, and then Asian Amateur was the same kind of deal as well. Got used to it,” he said. “I had a good first round there as well. This now, it kind of feels normal as much as it isn't, but yeah, I kind of feel like I belong now, which is good.”
The group a further shot back at three under includes a mix of Aussie veterans and up and comers, with Marcus Fraser and Dimi Papadatos, both morning starters, the most recognisable names. Fraser quick to shoot down suggestions he would give back the winner’s cheque if he were to walk away with the Stonehaven Cup on Sunday after suggesting the tournament could go without prizemoney earlier in the week.
“Not a chance,” Fraser said. “We're all here playing for prize money, but I would still be here next year if we weren't. It's a bit of a passing comment, I suppose, but we need to remember who's playing this week, who's not playing, I think, and remember the championship's bigger than any one player. This is one of the best tournaments in the world and we would all give anything to have our name on that trophy.”
Another player who echoed the importance of the event and trophy earlier in the week, and perhaps needs the winner’s cheque less than the rest of the field, is Matt Kuchar. The American signing for a two under opening round after struggling early on Thursday playing alongside a nervy Cameron Davis defending a title for the first time in the difficult afternoon side of the draw.
“It blew hard this morning, it blew hard this afternoon. I think it was tough all day, so you figure it's a fair test then,” Kuchar said. “If we get calm elements in the morning, you kind of hope the guys kind of deal with the same in the afternoon. It sure makes golf easier and more pleasant with some calm elements, but part of the game is dealing with the elements and we do a pretty good job with that.”
If the conditions more akin to tournaments held near lochs rather than lakes continue, Kuchar, a former Open Championship runner-up, is sure to emerge as one of the favourites, but An won’t be giving up easily and the Australians challenging for their national title that has coped plenty of bad press this week will be keen to put Aussie golf up in lights for the right reasons.
With Fraser making sure everyone is aware what he thinks of the event’s significance.
“This is one of the best tournaments in the world and we would all give anything to have our name on that trophy.”