15 Jan 2022 | Professional golf |
The PGA: History beckons for Morgan at Royal Queensland
by PGA of Australia
By Tony Webeck
Coach Grant Field had a simple message as his young charge prepared to sleep on a six-stroke lead at the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship on Friday night: Just do you.
Aussie golf fans with memories that stretch back more than 25 years will know six-shot leads can evaporate as quickly as a desert mirage and the question on rookie Jed Morgan on Saturday was whether the temperament would match the talent.
The 2020 Australian Amateur champion at Royal Queensland Golf Club, Morgan played his way into the final group on Saturday at the Vic Open just a few weeks later. He shot 74 that day on his way to a tie for seventh but two years later there were no signs of nerves.
Instead there were fist pumps, finger raises and rev-ups for the gallery that swelled around him, a birdie at the par-3 17th party hole bringing the 22-year-old just as much joy as those in the lively corporate marquee as he shot 65 for a 20-under par total.
Morgan can erase a host of records of the past and plot his own future if he does what he intends to do on Sunday and extends his nine-shot 54-hole lead even further.
The record score in relation to par in the Australian PGA Championship is 22-under (Nick O’Hern and Peter Lonard, 2006) and the record winning margin is eight strokes, a mark set three times by two men with five major championships between them (Hale Irwin 1978, Greg Norman 1984-85).
Whether he wins by one or a dozen, a victory would see Morgan collect the Joe Kirkwood Cup, $180,000 in prize money, status for three years on the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia, starts in three DP World Tour events this year and all but guarantee one of three DP World Tour cards to be handed out at the completion of the Australasian summer.
And to do so his theory is simply to carry on doing what’s worked so well the first three days. “It’s nice but anything happens in golf, so it doesn’t change a thing,” Morgan said of his enormous 54-hole lead.
“It doesn’t really move me one way or the other, it just makes me kind of win by more if I can. “It helps obviously but just going to try and do the same thing as I’ve done, because it’s obviously working.”
Work is not something that Morgan shies away from.
During a stint in the US last year he pitched in with the likes of Jack Thompson and Louis Dobbelaar on a working bee to clean out the backyard of WPGA Championship contender Sarah Jane Smith.
They moved tonnes of green rubbish yet Morgan approached it in much the same manner as he did solidifying a tournament lead on Saturday.
“Oh my goodness, I’ve never seen anyone work so hard and enjoy it,” Smith explained.
“They were throwing palm trees and laughing, they were having a great time.”
Former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy spent the first two days watching Morgan at close range.
Given the manner of his eight-under par course record 63 on Friday Ogilvy likened Morgan’s arrival to that of a 21-year-old Greg Norman at the West Lakes Classic in Adelaide in 1976.
Like Norman that week, Morgan is playing in just his fourth event as a professional and can effectively play his way onto the DP World Tour by leaving RQ with the Joe Kirkwood Cup.
He battled through the heat and harnessed the support of the crowd as energy levels waned, a failure to get up-and-down from the front-left bunker on 18 his lone bogey of the day and first since the 13th hole on Thursday.
It might have slightly soured the taste of the Saturday night steak but won’t detract from his focus to complete a remarkable first professional win.
“I had no idea this could happen,” conceded Morgan, whose family used to run the 10-hole Hatton Vale Golf Course and Fairways Tavern.
“Three rounds are done, one more to go and the job will be finished.”
Rookie professional Jed Morgan has two long-standing championship records in his sights after taking complete control of the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship on Saturday.
The only question prior to Round 3 was how well a six-shot lead would sit on the broad shoulders of a young man playing just his fourth event as a professional.
His closest rival – both physically and on the leaderboard – Andrew Dodt narrowed the gap to five at the opening hole but that would be as close as anyone would get on day three at Royal Queensland Golf Club.
As the chasing pack prayed for a miracle the man whose name means ‘beloved of God’ delivered the equal best round of the day, his six-under 65 and three-round total of 20-under par putting him nine shots clear of the field.
The Australian PGA Championship 72-hole scoring record relative to par is 22-under set by both Nick O’Hern and Peter Lonard in 2006 and the tournament record winning margin of eight strokes is also at his mercy.
The first to set that mark was three-time US Open champion Hale Irwin at Royal Melbourne in 1978 and was equalled by Greg Norman in consecutive years in 1984 and 1985, Norman’s first win also coming in his fourth event as a professional.
Morgan’s day got off to an inauspicious start when he cracked the head of his driver on the range but from the time he made his first birdie at the par-4 second never once looked likely to falter.
A second birdie at the third hole extended his lead to seven and whenever Dodt looked to exert some pressure he answered with a birdie of his own and either a fist pump or a finger pointed high into the Queensland sky.
A 25-foot par save at four and a crucial putt on 15 kept Morgan from giving the challengers a sniff, his first bogey since the 13th hole on Thursday coming on his final hole of the day. When Tiger Woods took a nine-stroke lead into the final round of the 1997 Masters at Augusta National, Colin Montgomerie was asked whether anyone else might wear the green jacket on Sunday.
Montgomerie shot 74 to Woods’ 65 playing in the same group that Saturday and famously declared in the press centre afterwards that “there is no chance humanly possible that Tiger Woods is going to lose this tournament. No way.”
Andrew Dodt stopped short of anything Monty-esque on Saturday but concedes that Morgan’s procession appears almost unstoppable.
Playing together in the final group alongside Sydney’s Grace Kim in Saturday’s third round, Dodt’s intent was to apply early pressure and monitor Morgan’s response.
When a six-shot lead was trimmed to five after hole one any cracks in the 22-year-old’s façade would have widened yet harnessing the support of his home-club fans he instead grabbed one of golf’s most revered tournaments firmly by the throat.
No one bettered Morgan’s score of six-under 65 on Saturday as his 54-hole total climbed to 20-under par, Dodt’s closing birdie ensuring the pair will play together again on championship Sunday.
With so much at stake so early in his professional career there will again be questions about Morgan’s temperament, questions Dodt now feels the 22-year-old is well-equipped to answer.
“Is it doable? Nine shots, that’s a lot, on his home course in front of his home fans,” Dodt conceded after losing ground despite shooting three-under 68 on Saturday.
“It’s going to take a low round and potentially a not so good round on his behalf, but he’s full of confidence, he’s playing well, he’s holing putts. It’s going to be tough.”
If there is a player in the field other than Morgan with momentum at their back its Victorian David Micheluzzi.
Even par on his round through 11 holes, Micheluzzi (66) looked unlikely to make any kind of impact but then rattled off five consecutive birdies to be in outright third at 10-under.
Like Dodt, his position on the leaderboard is not indicative of the distance to the leader but Micheluzzi knows his only option is to go low again on Sunday.
“Win, lose, whatever, all I want to do is shoot four, five-under tomorrow,” Micheluzzi said.
“If a few more putts go in, hopefully in the low 60s, but I just want to stick to my game plan.
“That’s the biggest goal I want to achieve this week. Obviously the result does matter, but for me internally, the process and all that stuff is much more important.
“The last couple of tournaments I just haven’t putted that great and the ball striking’s been good. This week’s been great with both the things.”
Another Royal Queensland member in Jake McLeod (67) is in fourth spot at nine-under par followed by reigning Australian Amateur champion Louis Dobbelaar (70) with Cameron John (67) and Daniel Gale (68) sharing sixth spot at seven-under.
Headline act Min Woo Lee shot two-under 69 on Saturday to be six-under and tied for eighth with one round to play.
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