Budding star Elvis Smylie played one of the rounds of his young life to seize the lead in The National Tournament on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula today.
Smylie’s course record 63 on the Moonah course, with nine birdies and not a single blemish, vaulted him up the field and put him in contention to win his first tournament as a professional.
Long touted as the Next Big Thing of Australian golf, the 20-year-old Gold Coast left-hander rolled in six birdie putts including a couple of bombs on the front nine, then kept it together on the more difficult back nine to post his score, nailing another birdie putt at the tough par-3 17th and narrowly missing a 20-footer for a 62 at the par-4 18th.
He leads by two shots from Sydney’s John Lyras and Daniel Gale, who both posted 66 in conditions that were unpleasant with the rolling rain showers, but score-able because the greens were soft and the wind not as strong as Thursday.
First-round leader and Order of Merit champion David Micheluzzi dropped back, four shots behind after a second-round 71 today.
It was Smylie’s day. A Golf Australia Rookie Squad member and former Australian Boys’ champion, he is at 11-under par overall after opening with a 2-under 70 on Thursday.
Grouped with Lyras and Blake Windred, they formed the hot group of the day. “It was pretty easy to play some good golf out there, watching Elvis today,” said Lyras. “I think it’s probably the best golf I’ve ever seen up close and personal. It was nice to be able to feed off that and keep chasing him.”
Sweet-swinging Smylie was white hot with the putter, making everything on the greens and using his imagination with former touring pro Mike Clayton on the bag. His 63 lowers the Moonah course record of 66 set by Micheluzzi on Thursday.
“It was weird, I mean everything seemed to go in my favour today,” said the Queenslander, whose mother Liz won four Grand Slams on the tennis circuit.
“I just played really good golf. It got a little bit windy out there which I like. I love the windy conditions. You have to shape your shot and control your ball flight really well. I did a good job of that and made a couple of long putts that I probably shouldn’t have made, but it was a really good day and I’m excited for the weekend.”
Smylie had not played the Moonah course prior to this week, but not surprisingly, it fits his eye.
“I love this style of golf,” he said. “It’s my favourite style, especially when it gets a little bit tricky. I love it when it gets hard, and it definitely separates the men from the boys.”
Smylie is 10th on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit for 2022-23 and a win this week would push him into the top five, giving him direct access to the final stage of the Q-School on the Korn Ferry Tour in the United States, and potentially the same for the DP World Tour.
But he was philosophical about his position today. “For me it’s about focusing on the little step-by-step things that I’m doing well at and controlling the things that I can control. That’s all noise for me, so for me it’s what I can control and see what happens from there.”
Lyras is a regular on the top of the leaderboard who is still chasing his first win on tour, and he has again put himself in the mix.
In fact the 26-year-old from St Michael’s could have gone lower than his 66; he left several putts in the jaws, and made a double bogey 6 at the par-4 sixth hole after finding the deep bunker on the left and leaving one in the sand.
Close at the NSW Open a couple of weeks ago – he was in the final group but fell away to tied-eighth suffering with a shoulder injury – Lyras was happy to make himself prominent again.
“You can’t win tournaments from 10 shots behind often. It’s nice to be up the top and close to the lead going into the weekend,” he said.
The National Tournament is the season-ending event on the Australasian Tour with the Order of Merit and all its exemptions to be decided on Sunday along with the $200,000 prize pool.
Saturday and Sunday’s play will be telecast live on Fox Sports, Kayo Sports and Spark (NZ).