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30 Nov - 3 Dec, 2023

01 Dec 2022 | Australian Open |

Micheluzzi overcomes demons to take first round lead

by Dane Heverin

David Micheluzzi.

An equal course record seven-under round of 63 at Victoria Golf Club has propelled Victorian David Micheluzzi into the lead in the first round of the ISPS HANDA Australian Open in Melbourne.

Micheluzzi’s putter was flaming hot as he rolled in eight birdies on his way to matching Geoff Ogilvy (2011) and Ryan Ruffels’ (2014) record low score at Victoria.

The 26-year-old’s only slip up of the day was a bogey at his first hole of the tournament - the par-4 10th - where he launched a nine-iron over the back of the green, but from that point on he could do no wrong.

“I’ve been here a hundred times,” Micheluzzi said. “So, I know this course like it’s the back of my hand and I got the putter going too, which was kind of nice.

“I was hitting it well. I was hitting it good in the practice rounds. I holed a bomb on 13 from like about 65, 70 feet, which was nice. Early days, I was still half asleep, so it was kind of a shock that it went in.”

Micheluzzi’s feat comes off the back of a sharp turn around in his form that began at the DP World Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship two months ago and was followed by a maiden professional win at the WA PGA Championship to kick off the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia season.

The former world number two amateur endured a difficult start to life on tour after making the leap into the professional ranks in 2019 due to performance anxiety, but Micheluzzi believes that he is back to his old self which was on display when he finished tied for fifth in this event at The Lakes in 2018.

“I think when I turned pro it was scary,” he said. “It was the first time I’ve actually been scared on a golf course, scared of where I’m going to hit it and if I’m going to hit it in the trees or in the bunker. I was worried about what everyone else thought rather than just playing golf.  

“I think the more experience, the better. I think I’ve played enough pro events now that it’s just another round of golf. 

“But three years ago when I turned pro I was so uncomfortable and it showed – the golf was horrendous.

“Just performance anxiety, it comes out of nowhere. I had it badly and I had burnout in early 2020, just from playing too much golf. It all just compacted and basically I had to start from scratch, just learning how to play golf again kind of.  

“I knew how to swing a golf club but actually managing your way around a golf course, that was my strength back in the day and I lost it. Then it’s taken me almost two years to actually find out how to do it again, which is kind of weird. 

“It’s just a weird thing, the brain. I’m glad that I’ve come out the other side of it and hopefully the next few years are really good.”

The Melburnian felt right at home seeing friends and family line the fairways this morning as if he was playing a regular round at the two clubs he is a member of, Cranbourne Golf Club and Peninsula Kingswood Country Golf Club.

He will again enjoy those familiar surrounds on Friday afternoon at Kingston Heath.

“I know that course better,” he said. “I’ve just got to do the same thing. Just plod it around. I made putts today, that’s why I shot seven-under.  

“I also hit it pretty good, but just hit it good tomorrow, shoot a decent score and then obviously come into the weekend and hopefully fighting with Cam (Smith) and all the big boys. It’ll be fun.”

In the afternoon field, Matthew Griffin made the most of his local knowledge to shoot a four-under 66 at his home club Victoria, while New Zealander Josh Geary also reached that mark with a 68 at Kingston Heath.

Griffin began his day on the 10th tee and surged up the leaderboard quickly to reach the turn at three-under before remaining steady as the wind picked up on the way home.

Geary also teed off the 10th and was blemish free at five-under par until his only bogey for the round arrived at the penultimate hole.

"I feel like I’ve had a really solid year, made most of my, if not all, the cuts I’ve played in this year and I’ve had a few top 10s in the Challenge Tour, two or three," he said.

"But on the main tour stuff, just having average weekends, finishing 40th or 50th, so it’s been frustrating because I felt like I haven’t really had a good run yet. So yeah, it would be nice to get four runs together.

"The game has been just there or thereabouts, but just without having the good scores. Whether it’s been just not quite making the putts or missing, that’s just golf I guess sometimes. But yeah, the base of it’s been there for the last few months, so it would be nice to catapult off that and get some good results."

The next best of the morning groups were rookie professional Connor McKinney, New South Welshman Zinyo Garcia and American Gunner Wiebe at three-under par.

McKinney and Garcia carded 67s at Victoria, while Wiebe produced a round of 69 to be the pick of the bunch at Kingston Heath.

McKinney, who made his professional debut at the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship last week, won the Australian Amateur and the St Andrews Links Trophy earlier this year and after reaching the turn at two-over (he teed off the tenth) fought his way into contention with five birdies on the front nine.

Garcia meanwhile has been working with Cameron Smith’s coach Grant Field and said at Royal Queensland last week that it was the first time he felt like a true professional in the way he managed his game.

Wiebe’s day was highlighted by an eagle at the par-5 14th and he also made three birdies. Strong crowds followed PGA Tour trio Lucas Herbert (-2), Adam Scott (-1) and Cam Davis (+1) at Kingston Heath and they had an up-and-down morning.

“I played really poorly and I putted really well,” Scott said. “I mean, it kind of makes up for it but when you hit it as bad as that in bad spots, it’s hard to have a good score.  Yeah, I don't know, too many early mornings for me, I think.”

The headline act of the men's side of the tournament, Cameron Smith, had a disappointing day finishing his afternoon at Victoria one-over par.

His round began with a massive reception from the strong crowd that had lined the first hole to witness The 150th Open champion and the US Women's Open champion, Minjee Lee, in back-to-back groups.

The special moments ended there for Smith however.

"I think it was all pretty rubbish, to be honest. Yeah, that was as bad as I’ve played in a long time," he said.

"Obviously I think the course is pretty difficult, the conditions are pretty difficult, but still I need to be better than that."

Min Woo Lee was another drawcard for the afternoon field at Victoria and he shot an ever par round of 70.

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