Date: November 24, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Cool Aussies maintain humour, hope

It took a timely one-liner from Marc Leishman to lighten the mood after Australia bumbled to a two-over start in defence of its World Cup title at Kingston Heath today.

“Still got our health, we’re both healthy.”

So said Marc Leishman to the somewhat subdued media throng after he and Adam Scott battled to a two-over-par 74 to open Australia’s World Cup defence at Kingston Heath today.

“It’s very sombre here,” Leishman joked, providing the levity when perhaps those asking the questions were taken aback by the Aussie team’s inability to gather any momentum in the opening foursomes in testing, cool winds in south-east Melbourne.

“It’s not that bad, we’ve got a lot of golf to play. Bodies are feeling good and let’s go out tomorrow and have a good one, eh Scotty?”

Australia finished T14, five strokes behind leader Spain, with the United States, France and bolter China just one off the pace.

England and Italy share fifth place at one under with the two European teams combining for 15 strokes on the par-5 12th, without which either might have been the day’s top tale.

But with the expectations on the home team, defending the title Scott and Jason Day won in 2013, the spotlight naturally fell on the Aussies, who tried to make light of a rough day.

“You only feel bad because you’re two over, but (three) under is leading. If you’re (five) back after the first round of any other event, you don’t care at all,” Scott said.

“It’s just a score and tomorrow is a much freer format. Hopefully you can rely on your partner a bit and free up out there and we’ll get a few putts to go.

“We had no momentum today, but in these conditions it’s about as hard as it gets playing foursomes in blustery conditions around a tricky course.”

Scott was the chief culprit early as the hosts tried to give the big gallery something to roar about.

The 2013 Masters champ misjudged several approach shots badly with wedge in hand, including air-mailing the 12th green from 75m.

Leishman played some he’d rather have back, although it was his putter that backfired more than once when it could have put a spark under the Australian tilt.

Scott made light of the situation that invariably confronts partners when they play in the alternate shot format.

“Yeah, there were a couple of little looks over when I’m flying them over a couple of greens,” Scott joked.

“I think after the third one he was pretty much over playing from over the back of the greens.

“It’s pretty funny when you have to sit there and you can’t control what’s going to happen for where you hit the next shot from.

“So yeah, a few cheeky looks at each other. But we just have to stay patient, nothing really went our way and hopefully it does tomorrow.”

Australia was drawn to play with Canadians David Hearn and Adam Hadwin in tomorrow’s fourball round, in which a far lower score will be in order.

“I’d like to think we can make some inroads tomorrow,” Leishman said.

Their playing partners today, Americans Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker, fared no better off the tees and up the longer fairways in the blustery conditions.

But the visitors were far more adept at scoring and played an indirect role in keeping Australia without momentum by chipping in from the sand for birdie on the par-four 13th before Leishman missed a short putt just he’d probably thought would kick-start the team’s round.

It wasn’t until Scott cashed in on a brave Leishman tee shot on the uphill par-three 15th that Australia had its first birdie, by which time, France and China had pushed clear.

Spain, which used a glorious 3-wood approach by super impressive youngster Jon Rahm to set up eagle on the par-five eighth to build momentum, had a great break on the last hole to snare the first-round lead.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello hit a 4m birdie putt on the last that looked to have slid right only to balance on the back rim of the cup and finally fell in to cap a solid 69.

“That was a fun putt because … it looked like it couldn’t miss and then all of a sudden it could really miss and I don’t know how it came back,” the jovial Spaniard said.

“And then something up there (looking  to the heavens), the wind helped and maybe it spun back.

“It was obviously tough and tricky with the wind, but Jon played great. I rolled some putts and hit some good shots as well, so I think it was a score we’re proud of, but also a score we deserve.”

The first group off tomorrow is at 8.28am with Australia off at 9.10am.

The Spaniards and French are off at 11.30am in the final group.