Coolum, Australia: Tour rookie Daniel Popovic maintained a share of the lead after Friday’s second round of the Australian PGA while former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, chasing a possible US Masters berth for next year, closed on the leaders. Popovic, who nearly gave up golf earlier this year to care for his seriously ill father, followed his opening 64 with a 70 on Friday, including a double-bogey seven on the par-5 15th.
The first-round leader is level on 10-under 134 with Chinese national team member Zhang Xinjun (67), two shots clear of their nearest rivals at the Palmer Coolum resort course.
Zhang had a one-stroke lead twice in the closing holes, but bogeys on two of his final three dropped him into a tie with Popovic going into the weekend.
Ogilvy (69) and Matthew Griffin (67) were tied for third. Fellow Australians Matt Goggin (66), Steven Bowditch (67) and Brad Kennedy (68) were tied for fifth, three strokes behind.
Last week’s Australian Open champion Peter Senior shot 70 and was tied for eighth, four strokes behind the leaders. Former British Open champion Darren Clarke shot 69 and was five strokes off the lead while South African Rory Sabbatini shot 68 after an opening 76 to make the cut with a few strokes to spare.
Ogilvy, the 2006 US Open winner, is aiming to finish in the top 50 year-end world rankings which would guarantee him a spot in next year’s US Masters. Current projections show Ogilvy would have to finish third or better at Coolum.
“I don’t know if it has to be first to get into the top 50, but it probably has to be first two or three,” Ogilvy said. “I don’t study world rankings that much. But that would be a bonus, winning the tournament would be the best part, but if that was a side bonus that would be good.”
“I feel like I am in a good place. It’s nice I will be in one of the last few groups tomorrow and if I can have a good score, maybe get right up there after tomorrow and give it a crack on Sunday.”
Popovic found out earlier this year that his father, Radi, is suffering from a form of incurable bone cancer. He said his father, in hospital undergoing blood tests, was in tears after his opening round, and expected more of the same on Friday.
His double bogey on 15 came innocently enough: over the green with a shot he thought he hit perfectly — until the wind dropped.
“I can’t get my head around it, it is really tough judging the wind, behind the green there’s a bunch of trees that are pretty tall,” Popovic said.
“We [he and his caddie] just sort of looked at each other completely bamboozled. Then we didn’t have the best lie, there was a lot of into the grain, the grass growing into the ball and then I just completely stuffed it up.”
Zhang, who needed only 22 putts on Friday and has preferred his hybrid club to his driver off the tee on all but three occasions for two rounds, said through a translator that he’s becoming more confident as he plays the course more. Last year, he watched the PGA at Coolum on television from China.
“I felt good today, I am getting used to this layout and to the wind,” Zhang said.
Asked how he communicates with his non-Mandarin speaking Australian caddie Drew Garland, who was provided by the tournament office, Zhang said: “I’ve learned some English, mostly related to golf, like ‘how do you think this breaks’?”
Bowditch, who grew up locally and his family still lives at nearby Peregian Beach, says he’s taken plenty of confidence from securing his US PGA Tour card for next year at the recent qualifying school in California.
His final round on the Monday was nerve-wracking when he went to 3-over on the day early and was dropping quickly out of the top 25 that secure their cards for 2013.
“Q School is one of the most demanding golf events I have ever had to play,” Bowditch said. “I just got off to a bad start and it was going sideways, going downhill really quick. I learned a lot about myself in that back nine. It was more pressure than I have ever had in any given time at any moment.”