Brad Kennedy will call on the memories of his New Zealand Open triumph last March to convert a two-stroke lead into victory at The Players Series at Rosebud Country Club on Sunday.
Currently leading the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit, the Queenslander moved into a share of the lead with five birdies in his first 12 holes on Saturday but bolted clear when he holed a 7-iron for albatross – 3-under par – at the par-5 15th.
His 9-under par round of 62 is only one short of the course record that was set by his nearest challenger Nathan Barbieri on Thursday, the first albatross of his professional career putting the 46-year-old in elite company.
Greg Norman’s two at the par-5 fifth at the Australian Golf Club during the 1990 Australian Open is the most famous albatross in Australian golf while Adam Scott holed his approach shot from 198 metres at the par-5 eighth during the 2011 Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club.
Former PGA Tour player Matthew Zions played the par-5 14th hole in just two strokes during the 2007 Australian Open and Damien Jordan holed a sand wedge for eagle at the par-5 ninth during the Queensland Open at The Brisbane Golf Club.
Steven Jeffress and Welshman Richard Johnson both aced the 301m par-4 15th during the New Zealand Open held at The Hills Golf Club in 2007 and 2009 respectively but Kennedy’s killer blow from 181 metres out of the right rough was an unexpected bonus.
“I felt like it was going to fly and it actually just came out absolutely perfect, landed about 10 feet short of the flag,” recalled Kennedy, who plans to add the No.4 Titleist Pro V1x to his collection of seven career hole-in-ones in the garage at home.
“I could only just see the flag itself and when I saw it rolling and disappear I actually thought it had snuck over the back but a couple of people around the green started cheering. It was pretty cool.”
A professional since 1994, Kennedy’s seven career wins have all come over the past decade, his most recent one a second New Zealand Open title at The Hills Golf Club last March.
His only start prior to this week since that win was at the PGA TOUR’s ZOZO Championship in California last October and Kennedy knows he will need to call on that experience to guide him to a maiden Players Series title.
“It’s up to me really. If I don’t do what I need to do tomorrow then there’s an opportunity that I’m not going to be able to get what I want to get done,” said Kennedy, who is exempt into the WGC event in Florida in late February.
“In a sense I’m going to have to relive some good habits that I understood at the New Zealand Open last March and try and understand those again and get back to what it felt like. Use those keys and the discipline that I’m going to need tomorrow to continue to try and play as good as I can.
“If I don’t then there’s the chance that I won’t perform as I need to.
“My game’s definitely not there yet but it’s exciting to see where it is now without the workload under the belt yet.”
In just his second month as a professional New South Welshman Nathan Barbieri is Kennedy’s nearest challenger at 12-under par, three shots clear of Gippsland Super 6 victor Marcus Fraser.
The 2019 Australian Amateur runner-up stumbled after an opening 10-under 61 but rebounded on Saturday with a 5-under 66 that puts him right in the mix to notch a debut professional win.
“Even when I was an amateur I shot some really good scores in the NSW Open so I’ve got some experience of keeping it going when starting well. Hopefully that comes in handy tomorrow,” said Barbieri, who was going to spend Saturday night re-watching ‘Prison Break’ on Netflix.
“I’m just going to go out there and stick to what I have to do and learn off what he’s doing out there.
“Enjoy the moment. It’s the last group of a tournament, you can’t want anything more than that. I’m just going to go out there and enjoy it.”
Highlighting the diversity of the leaderboard that The Players Series was designed to deliver, amateur Elvis Smylie and LPGA Tour player Su Oh are tied for fourth alongside Blitz Golf Glenelg winner Matt Millar, NT PGA champion Aaron Pike and the resurgent Bryden Macpherson.
Tournament host and 36-hole leader Geoff Ogilvy had a day of frustration on the greens to fall to a tie for ninth with a 1-over 72 with 19-year-old West Australian amateur Kirsten Rudgeley, Champions Tour player David McKenzie and two-time European Tour winner Andrew Dodt at 7-under.
In the opening round of the Junior Players Series Spring Valley’s Aryan Sharma holds a one-stroke advantage from Colorado University-bound Jack Holland, the pair the only players under par with rounds of 68 and 69 respectively.