Sydney’s Austin Bautista has vowed to continue his all-out assault on the Palmerston Golf Course after firing a course record 10-under 61 on day two of the Tailor-made Building Services NT PGA Championship.
An eagle from 10 feet at the par-5 ninth saw Bautista turn in seven-under 29 where he set sights on golf’s magical 59.
Forgetting that it is a par 71, Bautista mistakenly thought he needed six-under the back to better 60, five birdies and two bogeys resulting in an inward 32 and 10-under par total.
His 36-hole score of 15-under par is four shots clear of Gold Coast’s Kade McBride (66) with Adam Blyth equalling the former course record of 63 – held by Brett Rankin, Jacob Boyce, Daniel Nisbet and Frazer Droop – to end the second round outright third at 10-under.
Defending champion Aaron Pike (66) is one of four players tied for fourth at nine-under but he will need to use every ounce of his home course advantage to rein in Bautista over the final two rounds.
Equalling his own previous career low round, Bautista is determined to keep the foot to the floor as he chases a breakthrough ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia title.
“It’s not often you turn in seven so as soon as you hit seven you’re like, What do I have to do to get that magic number?” said Bautista, who has shot 11-under 61s twice previously on mini tours in the US.
“In the past couple of events I’ve kind of gone into the frame of mind of competing against the other guy. Everyone out here is a great player but it sets the bar, and I don’t want to do that anymore.
“I’ve gotten rid of that mentality and just play your game because you can take it as low as you want.
“It paid dividends today.”
Top-three in three previous events this season and 18th on the Order of Merit, Bautista admitted that he brought a different mindset into the final event of the season.
It’s a mindset he wants to carry into the weekend for what would be the biggest win of his career to date.
“I don’t want it to change. I want to go out there regardless of who I’m playing with, regardless of where they are on the board, their score doesn’t affect me in any way. And I don’t want that to happen,” said Bautista, who was runner-up two weeks ago at the WA PGA Championship at Kalgoorlie.
“I just wanted to get it done the last couple of weeks.
“I’ve had so many good opportunities. Started with Bonnie Doon, had a great opportunity there, Kalgoorlie was a good one, I started well last week.
“I kind of feel like I’m so much better than what my results are, and I believe that.
“I just want to go out there with the same mentality. Hit it close, make putts.”
Bautista’s nearest challenger heading into the weekend almost didn’t make it to the first tee on Thursday.
Troubled by a back injury that saw him withdraw from the pro-am on Wednesday, McBride needed treatment prior to his opening round but woke up Friday feeling free enough to compile a bogey-free 66.
“It was shocking, I didn’t think I was going to play,” said McBride, who finished fourth in 2019 and is staying with the tournament’s major sponsor this week.
“It was pretty average yesterday but then I woke up today and felt fine.
“It’s good to get off to a solid start. Consistency hasn’t been the issue, it’s more so just having a low one here or there. I’ve had chances to have low ones and just haven’t converted for whatever reason but feel pretty comfortable here.”
Blyth’s round of eight-under was built on a five-hole stretch around the turn where he had four birdies and an eagle at the par-5 second after starting his second round from the 10th tee.
Thirteenth on the Order of Merit, David Micheluzzi once again leant on his scrambling to post two-under to be six back of Bautista as he too chases a maiden win on tour.
“It’s been the opposite of what it’s been like all season. I hit it great and putted average and now I’ve hit it average and putted it great,” he added.
“For the way I hit it, nine-under through 36, I’m pretty happy with that.”
Deyen Lawson (65) and Lawry Flynn (65) are in a group of four players at eight-under and there is a compelling storyline brewing a little further down the leaderboard.
Currently fourth on the Order of Merit, Dimi Papadatos (69) is two shots ahead of third-placed Andrew Dodt (70), needing to make up $970 in prize money on Sunday to secure the third and final card to the DP World Tour.