Date: August 13, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Fraser keeps grip on Olympic lead

If you’d offered Marcus Fraser the halfway lead of the Olympic golf tournament two days ago, he’d have knocked you down in a scurry to sign up.

But you get the strong feeling that the Melburnian has loftier goals now.

Fraser, originally from Corowa, carved out a second-round two-under-par 69 today to lead the historic tournament at 10 under by a stroke from powerful Belgian Thomas Pieters (66), with Open champion Henrik Stenson (68) a shot further back.

Queenslander Scott Hend hung tough through the hardest of the conditions today and also signed for a 69 to move up to one over through 36 holes.

But a day after his stunning record 63 readjusted his ambitions, the normally laconic Fraser seemed as calm as ever despite a few chances to extend his advantage at the top.

“As golfers we all want that (bigger lead), but you add them all up at the end of the day it comes to a certain score and you can’t change that,” Fraser said.

“If someone had told me I’d been in this position (before the tournament), I’d have told them to go somewhere,” Fraser said with his trademark comical grin.

“But this is why we practise and why we want to get into these positions. This is what we enjoy most is getting into the mix and relishing that opportunity.”

Fraser hardly erred early, finding only a glimpse of trouble on the 2nd where he scrambled from a tight lie to avoid a repeat of his opening round bogey on the 435m par-four.

After his slightly nervous start, Fraser dialed in his irons, including a spectacular wedge that set up birdie on the third and earned the praise of the strong Aussie contingent urging him on.

That approach was mirrored on the fifth and from 200m on the 11th to set up birdies that stretched the lead to as many as four strokes as the chasing pack began to find form.

A wayward drive on the 12th found sand left and ultimately forced a bogey on the long par-four, then Fraser was clearly annoyed when a string of birdie putts burnt the lip of cups on the 13th, 14th and 15th greens.

As Pieters drilled his third straight birdie to close, Fraser, 38, watched in disbelief as his bumped second shot from pin-high left of the short par-four trickled failed to crest the hill and ran back towards his feet, ultimately costing a bogey and the outright lead for the first time since midway through round one.

But a rifled three-wood second shot to the fringe of the par-five 18th green set up another birdie that re-established his cushion, albeit smaller than it might have been.

“I felt like I putted very similar to yesterday, but the ball found a way to avoid the hole,” he said.

“That’s golf and the way it goes some days. But I felt comfortable out there yesterday and did the same again today. It’s hard to back up a 63, but it was good effort again.”

Fraser paid tribute to the close bond in the Australian camp, with Hend coming back out to join team leader Ian Baker-Finch and others to urge him home after his round was complete.

He also said having long-time mate Jason Wallis, a former pro from Corowa, on the bag was a huge benefit in his battle against the magnitude of the occasion.

“When you’re in the mix you feel those nerves, but I’ve done a really good job of controlling that,” Fraser said.

“But having best mate on my bag, to have a chat, laugh with and laugh at, it’s been good fun and we’re having a great time out there.”

Fraser said his appointment with Stenson and Pieters in tomorrow’s final group would not faze him.

“I’ll feel like I’m playing on my own, because they’ll be 100 yards in front of me (off the tee),” he joked.

“But there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

“And any time you get to play with Stenson on the weekend, you know you’re doing something right.

“He’s one of the nicest guys to play with – a good man and good fun to be around.”

Hend was at the mercy of the elements early on, but handled the conditions well with a birdie on the fifth to offset his lone bogey on the sixth.

As conditions cleared, Hend found his groove with a two-under back nine, closing with birdies on the 16th and 18th to move through the field.

The strong American contingent, with four in the world’s top 15, again failed to make any real inroads, although Bubba Watson looked ominous until a back-nine fadeout.

The big mover was New Zealand’s Danny Lee, who closed with four straight birdies in an impressive 65 that left him at five under overall.

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