Advice from two-time Australian Open champion Matt Jones and a putting tip from Order of Merit leader Brad Kennedy has positioned Sydney’s Justin Warren to contend for a tournament breakthrough yet again at the Moonah Links PGA Classic at Moonah Links.
The morning groups had less wind to contend with on the Open Course for Tuesday’s opening round and as such dominate the top of the leaderboard, another Sydneysider John Lyras in front by a stroke after a bogey-free 66 from a group of five players at five under.
Like Lyras, Kiwis Michael Hendry and Daniel Hillier and Queenslander Maverick Antcliff took advantage of the calmer conditions in the morning to shoot 67 in their first rounds, with Warren and fellow New South Welshman Robert Hogan joining them in a tie for second with the equal best scores of the afternoon, Hogan keeping a clean card with his five birdies coming at 1, 4, 7, 10 and 18.
Confident from his first made cut as a professional a fortnight ago at The Players Series Victoria, Lyras went bogey-free across his opening 18 holes, describing his six birdies as “fairly commercial”.
“I just had to stay really patient and put the ball in the right spots all day,” said Lyras, who finished tied for 17th at Rosebud Country Club.
“I didn’t really leave myself any hard up-and-downs either, even though I had to chip out a few times and wedge up and get up-and-down from the fairway a few times.
“They were real momentum builders. It was just really nice to get that round in the books and keep it clean for the most part.”
The 36-hole leader of the Victorian PGA Championship also played at Moonah Links last week, Warren dropped to a tie for fifth by weekend’s end, his third top-five finish on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia since turning professional midway through 2019.
He knows that each time he contends in a tournament he is a step closer to that maiden victory and has sought the advice from proven performers to fast-track his own development.
Sharing a coach in PGA Professional Gary Barter, the 25-year-old texted Jones as he slept on the 54-hole lead at the NSW Open in 2019 and has sought the counsel of Kennedy the past week for ways to improve his putting performance.
“Being in contention is a great feeling,” said Warren, who rose to a career-high of 825 in the world on the back of his Vic PGA result.
“It’s always awesome to be up there in those last couple of groups on Saturday and Sunday, it’s simply working out a bit better game plan for when I get into certain situations where I may need to step away and think about the shots that I’m going to be hitting.
“The night before the last round of the NSW Open in 2019 I was struggling to get to sleep because I had so much adrenaline and was just wanting to go out and compete but I didn’t know what to do with that because it was 10 o’clock at night and I’m trying to get a good night’s rest.
“I sent Matt a text and asked what I should do and he said just to treat it like any other day. Don’t hype the situation up any more than what it is, you’re simply going back out there to play another round of golf.
“It’s so simple but it’s stuck with me because the more you treat golf and competition anything bigger than what it really is, you can really spin yourself out a little and blow it out of proportion.
“I was even speaking to Brad Kennedy on the putting green last week and this week with regards to some stuff with my putting and just getting better. Being able to speak to him for 15 minutes on the putting green is something that I appreciate very much and always look forward to, learning from guys who have been there and done it over the years.
“Since turning pro I have managed to get myself into contention quite a few times in some big events and the more you can put yourself in that position, the more comfortable you become.
“It’s a numbers game. Eventually you’re going to get over the line and get one done and when you do, it’s a hurdle that you get over and you become even more comfortable when you are in that position again.”
After giving himself the day off on Monday Warren made a somewhat shaky start to his first round with a bogey at the par-4 11th but after making the turn at even par picked up five birdies on his back nine to be within one of the lead.
“I took a day off yesterday so I was a bit shaky down 10 and made a bogey on 11 but after that I got into a bit of a groove,” said Warren, who sank a 30-footer for birdie on his final hole.
“I didn’t really miss too many shots and when I did I missed in the right spots.
“I’ve been a little angry the past couple of days from not quite executing on Saturday and Sunday but we’re out here playing again, it’s an awesome feeling and I’m just grateful. And that’s a nice feeling to have when you’re out there playing.”
One player who had no problem making a fast start was three-time China Golf Tour winner Maverick Antcliff, a brand new Titleist TSi3 driver that he had fitted on Monday having an instantly positive impact.
“It took care of itself. I could just aim where I wanted to and hit it as hard as I wanted which was nice,” Antcliff said of his equipment upgrade.
“The fitting I had previously was just out of my two-week quarantine when I came back from Europe so I probably wasn't swinging it the best.
“I like to see the ball move left to right so I was just looking for something with less torque and a head that didn't spin as much on the mis-hits. It looked good yesterday but then seeing what it did on course it matched up nicely."