Date: November 30, 2017
Author: Mark Hayes

Senior stuns younger rivals

Peter Senior had no intention of even being at the Australian PGA Championship.

But some last-minute coaxing from PGA boss Gavin Kirkman has the Queensland legend in the running for what would surely be a story to topple his epic catalogue.

Less than 15 minutes away from being a spectator at Royal Pines, Senior entered the event he's won three times in an epic career that was thought to have ended last year.

And his change of heart remarkably has the 58-year-old just one shot from the tournament lead after the first round on the Gold Coast.

Senior shot a five-under 67 — the same as Spanish superstar Sergio Garcia and Greg Norman medallist Marc Leishman — to be one stroke behind co-leaders Adam Bland and Jordan Zunic after day one.

Senior was approached by PGA of Australia chief executive Kirkman to make a comeback earlier this month.

He rejected their offer but changed his mind during a Legends pro-am tour event on November 9.

His wife June then sent a text to Kirkman to confirm his entry, 15 minutes before the deadline.

"I was on the 14th hole at Killara Golf Club in Sydney and we had 15 minutes before the entries closed," Senior said.

"I wasn’t going to play and then I said to June, ‘You know, I’m feeling pretty good about my game'.

“So we made the decision and I still wasn’t sure even though I put my entry in.

"They were holding a spot for me for a few days there and I didn’t want to play but Gavin Kirkman from the PGA, he’s been on to me about playing.

"He said I’d be a great asset … even if I come out and play two days.

"I said if I’m coming out, I’m not playing two."

Senior has been playing on Saturday mornings on the Gold Coast and sneaking in the occasional nine holes with his son Mitchell since his "retirement".

But spurred by the fear of looking "like a moron" this week, he worked overtime with long-time coach Gary Edwin since he entered the tournament.

"I felt pretty good. I felt like I might be a bit nervous because I haven’t played a fully fledged tournament for the last 18 months but I wasn’t. I hit a couple of good shots and away I went," Senior said.

"I started to hit some good iron shots and didn’t miss many fairways and I only missed the one green.

"I’m just happy to shoot a good score to start with."

Zunic was born in 1991, two years after Senior claimed his first Joe Kirkwood Cup.

The co-leader gave praise to former US PGA Tour pro Nick O’Hern for the makeover of his mental game in time for his fine 66.

Zunic absorbed all the positive messages when he read O’Hern’s 2016 book, Tour Mentality: Inside the Mind of a Tour Pro, but it was a practice round with the former Australian PGA champion on Tuesday at Royal Pines that proved a game-changer.

"I’d been struggling with my mental mindset, he got in touch and the next thing I’m having an 18-hole mental playing lesson with Nick," Zunic said.

"He’s got me thinking better and not being as hard on myself but you just don’t expect it to click straight away."

Bland dropped a shot on his final hole to drop back into a tie with Zunic.

"I was just trying to make a few more birdies coming in; especially on the par-fives there I was going for it in two but it didn't pan out," the South Australian said.

"Obviously it would have been nice to not make a bogey on the last, but six under's still six under."

Bland has himself in a position that gives him a shot at the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit after a runner-up finish in the Oates Vic Open, third in the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth and a top-5 finish in the Fiji International this year.

"That's always the goal every year if I can get starts in Australia and play; I always want to try and finish high up on the Order of Merit or win one of these big tournaments if I can."

Garcia was pleased to fire a bogey-free 67 despite feeling like his best golf had eluded him.

"I played pretty solid. I wouldn't say that it was amazing, but it was good," the Masters champ said.

Leishman made a late charge to finish his round on 5-under, including an eagle on the par-5 15th.

"It was a really nice way to finish. The back nine I played a lot better, a couple birdies. That eagle was really nice," the Victorian said.

"And then to follow it up with a birdie and birdie the last was really good."

"My game is in a good spot, putter feels good, so hopefully can get out early with no wind and have a low one (tomorrow)."