Adam Scott’s brilliant form streak, and Australia’s World Cup hopes, came a gutser among Royal Melbourne’s gnarly ti-tree.
The world No.2, who was travelling along nicely at one under par, walked from the 12th green after a series of misadventures with a 9 blotting his scorecard – five over par – to plummet down the leaderboard.
It was his worst score on a hole since 2007 when he racked up a 10 in the WGC event at the Doral Golf Resort.
That calamity dropped him to the tail-end of the field and dealt a serious – but not mortal – blow to Australia’s hopes of winning the teams event. Jason Day, who teed off two hours after Scott, kept the Australian campaign afloat when he came home in one of the last groups with a brave three-under 68.
The trouble began for Scott at the 12th, a tough 402-metre par four, when he took an overly ambitious line across the dogleg, pushed his two-iron off the tee and sent his ball deep into the right trees. He then hit a provisional ball which ended in a similar spot.
After several minutes’ looking, the provisional ball was found but in among ti-tree so impenetrable that the Australian was forced to go back to the tee, where he took his third drive – and fifth shot in total.
But the hole had yet more pain in store for the world No.2. Scott’s approach shot to the green rolled too far and down a steep embankment from where he could not get up and down. A 9 was the result.
In truth, Scott – who had won the Australian PGA and Masters in the past two weeks – was showing signs of wear and tear before the 12th hole tumult. His driving was less assured than it has been and he was not as sharp with his iron play or putting.
”I made a couple of crazy swings there and paid the price,” the Australian said after signing for a 75.”I was away with the fairies. It’s a little disappointing but it just goes to show when you play good courses like this, you need to be switched on.”
Asked if he was suffering mental fatigue after a long and arduous season, Scott said: ”Maybe.”
On a tough day at Royal Melbourne, the scoring in the afternoon fell away dramatically as the breeze picked up and the putting surfaces became even more treacherous than usual. Scott said the course was noticeably more difficult than it was last week, during the Masters. Korea’s KJ Choi, who lies in third place, said all he was trying to do over his closing holes was avoid three-putts.
At the end of a day in which just 13 players from the 60-man field broke par, it was Kevin Streelman, of the US, and Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn who sat atop the leaderboard with five-under-par 66s.
Streelman, who was a late replacement in the American team for Billy Haas, had not played Royal Melbourne before arriving on Monday and his performance gave lie to the theory that some local knowledge was needed to succeed around here.
The 35-year-old American had a breakout year on the PGA Tour in 2013, notching five top-10 finishes and a victory – his first in 153 starts – in the Tampa Bay Championship where he had a bogey-free weekend.
Unlike some of his more gifted colleagues, Streelman has had to battle every step of the way to make it as a successful pro. After graduating from Duke University in 2001, most of his friends headed for Wall Street or law school, but he used his mum’s Nissan Altima to travel to South Dakota for the 2001 Dakotas Tour, and burned out three cars logging more than 300,000 miles criss-crossing the country while playing various Tours.
And now the late bloomer is ranked No.46 in the world, and jointly leading the World Cup.
A 42-year-old veteran of the European Tour, Bjorn said he sprang out of bed this morning at the prospect of playing what he regards as the best course in the world.
His ardour was cooled somewhat when he four-putted the fourth green from barely eight metres. But showing all his experience and guile, Bjorn fought back to post a brilliant 66, a score highlighted by a birdie at the difficult 18th.
”I’m 42 and have been playing for a long time but even I was excited as soon as I got up this morning: in my eyes, this is the finest course you could ever play. I could play it for the rest of my life,” Bjorn said. ”It’s only a short course but there are so many places you can’t leave the ball.”
In third place on 67 are Korea’s KJ Choi, Welshman Stuart Manley and Scotland’s Martin Laird.
In the teams event, the American pair of Streelman and Matt Kuchar share the lead at five under with the Danish team of Bjorn and Thorbjorn Olesen (71). Portugal lies in third place at two under while Australia is tied for eighth at one over.
Some of the first-timers to Royal Melbourne, and those who didn’t give themselves enough time to acquaint themselves with the quirks of this sandbelt layout, were found wanting. Italy’s Matteo Manassero shot a five-over 76, England’s Chris Wood and Ireland’s Shane Lowery 75, and New Zealand’s Tim Wilkinson 79. India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar, who did play in last week’s Masters, brought up the tail of the field with an 82.
Under the unusual format, where teammates do not get to play alongside each other but in different parts of the draw, Ireland’s Graeme McDowell teed off at 1.08pm when his buddy Shane Lowry was four over par after eight holes. Which must have been slightly demotivating in terms of chasing the team prize.