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AUSSIES Greg Chalmers and James Nitties share the overnight lead with world number one Tiger Woods all on 10 under going into the final day of the Australian Masters at Kingston Heath.
Two strokes further back the suddenly high profile Cameron Percy will boost that spotlight considerably when he lines up as Woods Sunday playing partner.
Woods was hot and cold all day and later said he had to “turn it around” just to salvage a par 72, highlighting the fact that the comparatively “short” Kingston Heath course does has its defences.
Perfect conditions are forecast for the final day with free to air television coverage on Channel Nine scheduled to begin at 12.30
WORLD number one Tiger Woods has his maiden Australian title firmly in his sights after establishing a three shot lead over the rest of the field at the half way mark of the 2009 JBWere Masters at Kingston Heath.
Shooting a second round bogey free four under 68 Woods finished the day on ten under par taking a handy three shot lead over Australians James Nitties and Greg Chalmers and American Jason Dufner.
The 14 time Major Champion, flanked by the majority of the 24, 007 strong crowd, fired off two successive birdies on his opening holes before picking up two more at the sixth and par five 12th. Whilst he enjoys a three shot buffer Woods admitted today was more of a challenge than yesterday’s opening round as the wind picked up late in the day.
“Today I didn’t really do anything great so shoot a 68 was pretty good considering the conditions,” said Woods.
“It was alot faster, the fairways were quicker and it became pretty apparent that you had to miss the ball in the correct spots to have any kind of chance.”
“I didn’t quite hit the ball as clean as I did yesterday, but then again the wind was blowing and I did have a couple of short birdie putts that I missed but I also the two big par putts…so to not drop a shot today on a par, those are the days that you feel quite good about it.”
Nitties, who shot an opening round 66 to hold the overnight lead with Woods was sitting comfortably at nine under par with four holes to play but disappointing bogeys at 15 and 17 saw the 27 year old drop back to seven under and lose his chance to play in tomorrow’s final group with the world number one.
That honour goes to Dufner courtesy of being first in with the scorecard, whilst Nitties and Chalmers will be partnered in the second last group.
It was the same story for 36 year old Chalmers who followed his first round 68 with a shot a solid four under par 69. Eight under after 16 he hooked his second shot on 17 and finished with a bogey.
“I was a little disappointed I made bogey on 17,” said Chalmers, knowing he had missed out playing with Woods tomorrow. “It’s very rare when he comes down here so to play with him at anytime is always a pleasure, so I was a little frustrated by that but at the same time I have played with him before – it just would have been nice in Australia to have a game with Tiger Woods.
It was Dufner though who produced the round of the day shooting a five under 67. The 32 year old American who finished 11th on the FedExCup Standings on the USPGA TOUR shot five birdies on the front nine turning in 31 and reaching nine under par before two late bogeys saw him drop two shots.
Three players are tied for fifth place on six under par including Australians Mathew Goggin (70) and Ashley Hall (69) and Manny Villegas (68), younger brother of USPGATOUR star Camillo. Taking a share of eighth place is Stuart Appleby (70), Cameron Percy (72), New Zealand’s Mahal Pearce (68) and last week’s Cellarbrations Queensland PGA Champion Steven Bowditch.
Of the other leading Australian contenders, John Senden (69) is on two-under alongside Adam Scott (71), a stroke clear of Richard Green (71) while Rod Pampling, who played with Woods, shot a 70 for three-under overall. Craig Parry, also in Woods’ group made the cut by one shot after a 76 and Geoff Ogilvy shot a 73 to finish on one over.
Coming off Thursday’s one-over 73, Aaron Baddeley was in danger of disappearing out the back door when he double-bogeyed his fifth hole for the morning, the par-five 14th, which has proved easy pickings for virtually all the leading contenders.
But the 2007 Australian Masters champion who also won the Australian Open at the Heath in 2000 redeemed himself with a scorching inward nine.
An eagle at the first was the trigger and he kept it going with a flurry of birdies from 5 through 7 for a 68 which has him at three-under overall.
77 players made the cut of three over including amateur Matthew Giles from NSW.
Day three of the 2009 JBWere Masters begins Saturday with the first group teeing off at 7:10am while Dufner and Woods will begin their round at 1:07pm.
WORLD number one Tiger Woods is locked in a three way tie for the lead with Aussie young gun James Nitties and South African Branden Grace after the trio fired an impressive six under 66 in the opening round of the 2009 JBWere Masters at Kingston Heath Golf Club.
Woods tore up the course in his first competitive round at the famed Sandbelt Course setting the early pace after teeing off at 7.30am from the tenth tee with playing partners Aussies Craig Parry and defending champion Rod Pampling.
Flanked by a gallery that quickly doubled from the initial 10,000 dedicated fans, the 14 time Major Champion picked up birdies at the 12th and 14th coming home with another five on his back nine with his only blemish a bogey on 18 (the 9th).
“We just couldn’t believe how soft the greens were today”, said Woods.
“I know they are trying to protect them with the heat and the wind and that’s expected but we were pretty surprised.”
“The wind wasn’t really blowing and the greens were soft so we could be pretty aggressive into the greens.”
“Balls were backing up and that’s pretty different around this golf course.”
Flanked by besotted fans Woods was once again complimentary of the Australian galleries.
“I think the people were extremely respectful and they were trying to police themselves, which was great. You don’t find that very often.”
“The galleries are very knowledgeable.”
Melbourne-born-Nova-Castrian Nitties, who has had a solid year on the USPGA Tour as a 2009 rookie used his local knowledge on his way to a bogey free round, the highlight an eagle at the 516 metre par four, 15th.
“I love Kingston. It’s in the best shape that I’ve seen it. I’ve only played about 10 total rounds here, but it’s awesome. It’s really a pleasure to play,” said Nitties.
“I’ve been a bit rusty. I’ve played once in the last five weeks, so for me to just come out and hit some half decent shots was my goal.”
Twenty one year South African Branden Grace was the surprise packet of the first round with the little known European Tour player only entering the tournament in a last ditch attempt to regain his European Tour card where he sits in 149th place (the top 115 get their cards).
In just his second sojourn Down Under and his first visit to Melbourne, Grace revealed that he most likely must finish third in the tournament to retain his card but was optimistic following his first round showing,
I played really solidly today and just really enjoyed it out there,” he said. “I was seven under with two to go and had a bogey on 17 which in the end was just really stupid. I was a unlucky on 18 because my shot was inches from the hole which would have had me in the lead but you know I’m really happy. I am up there and hopefully I can keep playing that way for the next three rounds.”
Just one shot behind the leaders after rounds of 67 are Victorian Cameron Percy, who will enjoy his rookie season on the US Tour in 2010 after finishing eighth on the 2009 Nationwide Tour Money List and New Zealand’s Doug Holloway with the Aussie trio of Greg Chalmers, Mathew Goggin and Peter Nolan tied for sixth place on four under par.
Local favourite Stuart Appleby shot a solid three under par 69 to be three shots off the lead with Craig Parry and Michael Sim on two under, 70 and defending champion Rod Pampling tied for 23rd place alongside Adam Scott with Australia’s highest ranked golfer Geoff Ogilvy at even par alongside Marc Leishman and 2004 Australian Masters champion Richard Green.
Play resumes Friday at 7:30am with the afternoon groups taking to the course at 11:50 featuring Woods, Pampling and Parry at 12:20 starting at the first tee.
The Melbourne temperatures are expected to remain warm with temperatures reaching 29C tomorrow with a hotter weekend ahead as temps reach 35C on Saturday.