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13th Beach Golf Links, VIC

1-4 February, 2024

02 Feb 2024 | Vic Open |

#VicOpen: Aussie trio to chase Kiwi Voke

by Martin Blake

Billy Dowling Vic Open image
Billy Dowling and caddie Matt Ballard size up a putt today. Photo: Daniel Pockett

Billy Dowling is built like he could ride at Randwick or Flemington, but on a day when yet another Kiwi jumped to the top of the men’s leaderboard in the Vic Open, the amateur emerged as the best-placed Australian along with New South Wales professional Travis Smyth and Queenslander Jack Munro.

The 18-year-old Dowling, who says the bathroom scales have him “in the 60s”, is making a habit of fighting out of his weight division.

Before Christmas he played in the final group at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Royal Melbourne.

On Saturday, the kid from the Gold Coast will play in the last group in a Vic Open with Aucklander Nick Voke, who is aiming to extend the run of New Zealand wins on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia to three after Kazuma Kobori’s consecutive Webex Players Series triumphs at Cobram Barooga and Rosebud.

Dowling shot 3-under 69 in the difficult afternoon winds on the Beach Course today to leapfrog up the leaderboard into joint second at 8-under with Smyth (66 on the Creek), who is coming off a good year on the Asian Tour, and Munro (68 on the Creek).

The Australian trio are a shot behind Voke, who went bogey-free in his 68 on the Creek Course today.

A bunch of four players are at 7-under – Northern Territory pro Jake Hughes who had to qualify this week, Victorian Caleb Bovalina, Queenslander Kade McBride and New South Welshman Chris Fan, whose recipe for avoiding a missed cut after a 1-over opening round was a 64 today on the Creek.

Dowling has Golf Australia High Performance coach Matt Ballard on his bag and he acknowledged that the support was valuable.

“I knew today was going to be tough and windy and that anything under par would be good,” he said.

Hailing from Helensvale on the Gold Coast, he has been on the radar for some years, twice shooting 59, joining the Golf Australia programs and winning the most recent Queensland Amateur.

Although he’d like more bulk, it’s not a focus.

“I’m not too stressed about, because I’ve got plenty of time to get bigger,” he said.

“I’m still an amateur, I’m not thinking about turning pro yet. It’s not a huge deal at the moment because the golf’s showing that it’s good enough.”

With the overnight leader Andrew Martin dropping back with a 2-over 74, Voke barged through the open door in the morning with his 4-under.

He admitted that Kobori’s dual wins, to go with victories by Lydia Ko and Steve Alker overseas and Kerry Mountcastle on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia, were inspiring Kiwis.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I think we’re not doing justice by saying ‘two in a row’. I think his last six months have been unbelievable, winning Eisenhower (the world amateur), the Western Amateur. That was unbelievable.

“It’s nice to see a guy kick on like that. Any success for New Zealanders on the world stage, Steve Alker, Lydia Ko… unbelievable. We’re very proud of that.”

Smyth came in with no expectations after a holiday in Thailand and some time back in Sydney over Christmas, and he is trying some new irons and wedges this week. But he has been razor sharp, and quickly so.

“It was blowing heaps, putting was difficult,” he said.

“I had to step away because half the time the wind beats the break. It was all timing, the putting as well. It was brutal.

“It felt strange on the eighth I hit a normal golf swing where I let the ball get up in the air. I was knocking everything down, cutting it, drawing it, there were never free swings out there.”

The 36-year-old Munro’s late rally was admirable, coming off his best performance in a while in Rosebud last week where he was inside the top 20. Caught in the more difficult afternoon winds he had five consecutive birdies in the middle of his round of 4-under.

“I don’t think I’ve played like that for a while,” he said.

Kobori suffered a little in the breezy afternoon conditions on the Beach Course and in the end, posted a 3-over 75 to drop back to 1-under, making the cut on the number. His task of becoming the first player to win three straight tournaments on the Australasian tour since 2005 is now enormous.

The cut was set at 1-under par but there will be another cut on Saturday night to 35 players and ties before the final round.

Entry at 13th Beach Golf Links is free. The only place to watch the Vic Open live is on Fox Sports, available on Foxtel and Kayo. Vic Open coverage starts at 3pm (AEDST) on Saturday and Sunday.


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