For a long time at The Lakes on day two of the #AusOpenGolf, Matt Kuchar and David Micheluzzi had it to themselves. Then along came Byeong Hun An with a hole-in-one, the thunderclap at the 15th that changed everything, and Max McCardle almost trumped them all.
South Australian McCardle’s two birdies to finish on the eighth and ninth holes came after most of the crowd had straggled out and the television coverage shut down. It gave him a share of the halfway lead with South Korea's An at eight-under par.
It’s not the first time McCardle has contended in an Open; in 2013 at Royal Sydney he was in the mix until a couple of big names in Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott pulled away, and he finished 10th. But it’s safe to say he is not a household name at world ranking No. 1062.
He has spent most of this year playing on the PGA Tour China, and he’s never won any tournament as a professional. His biggest win remains the South Australian amateur in 2010, and a three-round pro-am at Port Hedland on sand scrapes. He comes from Goolwa, at the mouth of the Murray, and in his early pro days he worked as mechanic and a dock hand to pay his bills and follow his dream.
Was he surprised? “Maybe to be leading,’’ he said. “I definitely felt like I’ve been playing well, just for whatever reason not piecing four rounds together.’’
His finish was the key; he made a three-metre birdie putt at the eighth and then at the short, par-three ninth, he holed out from the deep grass around the fringe of the green for a walk-off birdie. “It was a bit of a fluke,’’ he said. “It was just over the bunker. I had no stance, I had to chop my putter down on it, and it went in. I was just trying to get it inside six feet and it went in. That was cool.”
The Korean An, who lives in the United States and plays on the PGA Tour will sleep on the lead for a second straight night in Sydney. He carded a 69 today without being happy with his round, but a hole-in-one certainly helps.
It came at the 180-metre 15th hole, with a pure seven iron that bounced just off the front of the green, kicked forward and into the cup. It was his third career hole-in-one and earned him a $16,000 Tag Heuer watch as a prize.
“It was a little soft cut in there,’’ he said. “I hit it good, everything was perfect, nice fading in there from the left edge of the green to the hole. And it went in!’’
The group immediately behind An and McCardle is headed by 40-year-old Kuchar, who had 67 today in conditions he found much easier, and also includes 22-year-old Micheluzzi, the reigning Victorian amateur champion and grandson of Italian emigrants having his first start in his national Open. Queenslander Jake McLeod, winner of NSW Open last week, is also in that bunch just a shot from the lead.
As for Micheluzzi, he admitted he was “pretty mad” that he was overlooked for an invitation last year, and he has made it count this time around. Starting on the back nine he went birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie from the 12th to 15th and at nine-under, had a three-shot lead.
Then, the reality check. His second shot at the 17th went into water; his tee shot at the par-three 18th disappeared into deep fescue grass beside the green, and his tee shot on the first hole flared way right. Each time, he gave back a shot, but he hung tough to post 69 with six consecutive pars to close
No amateur has won the #AusOpenGolf since Aaron Baddeley at Royal Sydney in 1999, one of Australian golf’s most famous moments. Micheluzzi did not even bother pretending that the Baddeley comparison had entered his head.
“There is nerves,’’ he said afterward. “There has to be nerves because obviously it means something to me. To play in an Australian Open's just awesome. I've been dreaming about it since I was a little kid. This is my first one, so the nerves are still there, but I'm trying to do everything just to try to take my mind off it and just play golf, which I really enjoyed today.’’
It was a much kinder day at The Lakes and the scoring reflected it. On Thursday the average was 74.3; today it was trimmed to 72.4.
Among those who sneaked inside the cut-line were defending champion Cameron Davis, top-ranked Australian Cameron Smith and American Brandt Snedeker, all at one-over par.