Travis Smyth admitted he had mixed emotions over his lunch at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Wellington today.
The world’s No.12 amateur was loving every minute of Australian teammate Shae Wools-Cobb’s destructive eight-under-par 63 in the morning phase.
But as Smyth chilled, so, too, did the wind which rose sufficiently that there was no chance the Queenslander’s stunning round would be matched in the afternoon.
Only Filipino Lloyd Jefferson Go (67) went close to making inroads on Wools-Cobb, joining three others at four under.
Smyth was the pick of the later trio of Aussies on a Royal Wellington layout that relies on wind as its primary defence. The St Michael’s member made a great scrambling birdie up the par-five closing hole to sign for a 70 that he said was “the best one-under round I’ve ever shot”.
In the group ahead, fellow New South Welshman Dylan Perry made a birdie on the first, a double-bogey on the second and then 14 straight pars before getting back to square with a birdie on the 17th.
And then there was Charlie Dann, the affable Queenslander who was five over through eight holes and in danger of imploding before he, too, played a stellar back nine to fight back for a 74.
But rather than moan, they all shouted the praises of Wools-Cobb, who in benign early going matched his career-best round to move four clear after the first round.
That one of his nearest four chasers is West Australian roommate Min Woo Lee made the first morning of the chase for a Masters and Open berth even sweeter.
Lee carded a four-under-par 67 to share second with Go, Sean Maruyama, the son of Japanese legend Shigeki, and local hope Nick Voke, while Australia’s other “morning player” Harrison Endycott couldn’t buy a putt, but sits T11 after an opening 70.
Wools-Cobb, though, was the talking point.
His 7m eagle putt on the 18th green, his ninth after starting on the 10th hole, was the last of just 29 outward strokes, tying the APAC record of Prin Sirisommai in 2012.
His 63 matched his own best score at the defunct Horton Park in Maroochydore and was just one off the APAC record of 2015 champion Jin Cheng.
And it could easily have been even better with several well-struck putts burning the cups on the receptive greens after almost 15mm of overnight rain in the Wellington region.
“I felt really comfortable out there, like I was in control of my game – it was a nice feeling,” said the 21-year-old, who admitted the magical 59 flashed through his mind when he set up a makeable eagle try on the par-five fourth hole, his 13th.
“Yeah, when that one went in there, I thought, `Maybe’.
“But I missed it and I didn’t really think about it after that.”
The resultant birdie left Wools-Cobb at nine under, but he have his only shot back soon afterwards with a three-putt from the fringe on the par-four sixth.
Until that point, he had been exemplary, drilling birdies on the first three par-threes and riding his typically hot putter.
“I had a few other chances that might gone, too. But I’m really happy to be sitting where I am.”
Wools-Cobb admitted that the lure of Masters and Open berths had already flashed through his mind, but that he was in such a good place with his team that it wouldn’t be an issue.
“I just really want to stay relaxed. I haven’t experienced this before … it’s all new to me.”
Lee three-putted the 11th after also making birdie on the 10th, but then hit back with birdies on the 14th and 15th to kickstart his own run of five birdies in seven holes.
Only a miss from inside 30cm on the eighth prevented the young Royal Fremantle member from being second alone and he, too, was in a good headspace after his round.
“It was not bad considering a couple of mistakes,” Lee said.
“But I hit it pretty well and I think it should get better as the week goes. It was good to have (coach) Ritchie (Smith) on the bag and I’m looking forward to the rest of it.”
Endycott made a curling 6m eagle putt on the 18th, but remarkably didn’t have any birdies until the eighth, his second last hole in a 70 that could have been much better on the card.
“I drove it well and barely missed a green, but just couldn’t the putter going,” the Sydneysider said.
“But it’s good to have one of those days with the putter and still be thereabouts.”
The winner of the region’s most prized amateur trophy also wins playing rights to the 2018 Masters and Open Championship.