When he stumbled out of the blocks to be four-over through 13 holes, Poland’s Adrian Meronk looked like the latest international visitor to succumb to the subtleties of the Melbourne sandbelt.
The 56th best player in the world when the ISPS HANDA Australian Open teed off on Thursday morning, Meronk’s peerless ball-striking was nullified by Victoria Golf Club’s pristine putting surfaces that have confounded countless visitors to this extraordinary collection of golf.
But, like nature, good players invariably find a way.
When the 29-year-old matched up his soaring ball flight with a sense of speed on the greens he had the Stonehaven Cup at his mercy.
For his final 55 holes Meronk had 21 birdies and two eagles, opting not to try to tame Victoria in a Melbourne northerly but bring it to his knees with an aggressive approach that yielded a five-stroke victory by day’s end.
Two decisions, in particular, would prove crucial down the stretch.
As Adam Scott – a two-time Australian Master of the sandbelt – laid up with iron at the short par-4 15th, Meronk went on the attack.
“I played this hole aggressively every day. Just felt good about it and made a good birdie there. That was a big moment for me going forward,” he admitted.
That birdie gave Meronk a two-shot lead, a lead that would grow by one more thanks to another aggressive decision on the tee at 17.
The toughest hole all week at Victoria, Meronk had to be talked out of hitting 4-iron by his caddie and instead unleashed driver.
When Scott hit his iron from the tee out of bounds, Meronk’s willingness to stand up to the sandbelt paid the greatest dividend possible.
“I talked to my caddie and I asked if I should hit 4-iron but he said, ‘No, you’re hitting your driver so good. Just commit to the line and hit the driver as you have been hitting all day,’” said Meronk.
“That’s what we did and I’m glad that we did that.”
Despite making bogey, Meronk stood on the final hole with a three-shot lead and with no hint of a change in his mindset.
“It was the same story. Just trust my line, trust my swing and then just smash it.”
The punctuation mark on Meronk’s Melbourne mastery would come with an eagle putt from the fringe on 18 to reach 14-under and become the first Polish player to win the Australian Open.
As compelling as the Meronk storyline would prove, it was not the script written by the thousands of fans who flooded into Victoria Golf Club to witness Scott lift the Stonehaven Cup for a second time.
Scott’s one-stroke 54-hole lead became Meronk’s after the first hole, the 2009 champ unable to draw level again until rolling in a birdie putt at five.
The 42-year-old dropped shots at both seven and eight to trail by three at the turn and, despite drawing within one at 13, was unable to get back on level terms over the closing five holes.
“Fifteen was the turning point and then he played solid from there,” said Scott.
“That’s what makes it hard for guys to catch you, especially around this golf course. The hardest thing is when do you take the risk and miss the green in the wrong spot and potentially push yourself out of it too early.
“Fifteen was kind of the turning point, where a tournament is really on, and he played great.
“I just enjoy playing in front of an enthusiastic home crowd. I wish I could have delivered a better result for myself and them today but I was outplayed and that’s how it goes.”
Meronk’s second DP World Tour win of 2022 is likely to come with the added bonus of elevation inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.
His projected rank is No.48 which if he can maintain until the end of the year will ensure a maiden invitation to The Masters in 2023.
“That was definitely on my mind coming to these two weeks to Australia, to improve my ranking,” said Meronk, who was tied for 34th at the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship.
“I’ll just wait until tomorrow when the ranking comes out but I think that gives me a good chance to be inside top 50 and playing The Masters. That’s an unreal feeling.”
Meronk was not the only player on Sunday to book a spot in the majors next year.
Spainiard Alejandro Canizares used a Sunday best six-under 64 to climb into a share of fourth at seven-under, one back of Min Woo Lee (69) and level with Haydn Barron (70).
Barron finished birdie-eagle to reach seven-under and join Canizares and Lee as recipients of the three spots at The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club next July.
AIG Women’s Open champion Ashleigh Buhai (73) parred the final hole to edge Jiyai Shin (75) by one to win the Women’s Australian Open as Englishman Kipp Popert completed an international clean sweep with a seven-stroke win in the Australian All Abilities Championship.
Click here for final scores.