Spain’s Alejandro Canizares fought off jetlag and made a late flurry at 13th Beach to seize the lead in the men’s event at the ISPS Handa Vic Open, while a Korean and a Swede – Haeji Kang and Madelene Sagstrom — share the honors in the women’s event.
Canizares was by far the star of the day, the 37-year-old Spaniard making 10 birdies including at his last three holes to shoot a brilliant, nine-under par 63 on the Creek course to hold a two-shot buffer at the top.
His round was made all the more special by the fact he played in the fluky breeze of the afternoon. Almost all the low scores in both the men’s and women’s events came from the morning, when it was benign and open to attack on what turned out to be a low-scoring day.
Canizares is ranked 781st in the world, which goes to show his recent form has not been great on the European Tour. He has only limited status which is why he jumped on a plane last week and made his way here for a single event at a venue he’d never seen.
“I didn’t have expectations because it’s a long way from home, and you don’t know how you’re going to feel,’’ he said. “I’m working on the right things, I think, and I’m a good putter. Sometimes I see the hole really big and that’s what happened today.’’
He had just 27 putts, and explained that a rib injury, and the need to spend more time at home after the birth of his first child, a daughter Sienna, had influenced the lull in his golf. “I’m still motivated. I still want to play. I’ve been on tour 13 or 14 years but I still want to do it. I’ve still got half my career ahead of me I think,’’ he said.
A winner of two European Tour events, he is the son of a Spanish golf legend Jose Maria Canizares, who played four Ryder Cups, and his father’s influence remains strong. “I grew up watching him, motivated to do the same things, and here I am. I’m really thankful for that.”
Canizares’ late burst put space in a men’s field that was packed before that, with four men – the 2014 winner Matthew Griffin, New South Welshman Travis Smyth and Justin Warren and Queenslander Jake McLeod – all starting with seven-under par 65s.
Griffin, who plays most of his golf in Japan, did not make a single bogey. “It’s just a level of comfort; you’ve been there, you’ve done it, you’ve gone all the way to Sunday and you come back and go, ‘why not do it again?’. It’s always nice to come back to a place you’ve done well at before,” said Griffin.
A bunch of bright, young Australians are in the pack at six-under, including the reigning Australian Amateur champion Jed Morgan from Queensland, the 21-year-old Min Woo Lee from Perth, and Victorian Zach Murray, who eagled the last on the Creek course for his 66.
The 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy was another to play well in the afternoon, making eagle at the 18th for a 67, while one of the favorites, Lucas Herbert, started with a 71.
On the women’s side, Kang carded four consecutive birdies on the back nine of the Creek course on her way to 65 which tied Sagstrom, who won an LPGA Tour event just a couple of weeks ago. For Kang, 29, there is a familiarity here from spending some of her high school years in Australia, winning a national junior title.
“Every time I come here I feel like it’s my second home, so I feel very comfortable being out here and I like to hear all these accents and I feel like I’m home,” she said.
Sagstrom had a hot and cold round but ultimately closed with three consecutive birdies, also on the easier Creek course, and said later her win in Florida had helped her mindset. “I think after my first win there definitely added confidence to everything, just knowing that I can compete out here, knowing that I can win on tour,’’ she said. “I think that is definitely helping me out. It’s also created kind of a little bit of a calmness; just okay, it’s going to be fine, it will all work out, it’s the beginning of the season.”
Of the high profile players, Australia’s Minjee Lee began with a three-under par 69 on the Beach course along with Hannah Green, while former world No. 1 Inbee Park struggled to a two-under par that included a hole-out eagle on the par-four 10th hole. The 56-year-old Dame Laura Davies, playing her first tournament in six months, pulled off an almost incomprehensible 67 on the Creek course to put herself in contention.
The 288 players alternate courses tomorrow before those who make the cut play on the Beach course for the weekend, with just 60 men and 60 women having the luxury of playing on Sunday.