Brayden Becker has set himself up with a chance of a career-changing moment at the Nexus Advisernet WA Open tomorrow.
The 29-year-old from Mandurah, who has never previously won an ISPS HANDA Australasian PGA Tour tournament, eagled the last hole in front of the crowd at Royal Fremantle for a 65 today to reach 19 under par and a four-shot lead in his home-state Open.
It was a fitting climax for the popular Becker, who has had big crowd support including some friends and members from Mandurah Country Club, where he played his junior golf, works in the pro shop when he is at home and still plays regularly.
He celebrated with a fist pump after holing his little right-to-left putt from four metres at the 18th, having hit a beautiful four iron shot into the par-5.
“I read it perfectly,” he said later. “I had great speed all day with the putter.”
A few moments later his main rival, New South Welshman Nathan Barbieri, three-putted for par from just off the green at the same hole and the margin had been stretched from two shots to four.
In all likelihood only three players can win tomorrow – Becker, Barbieri (15 under) and defending champion Hayden Hopewell (14 under), who launched an incredible, course record third round of 63 but still found himself five from the lead by day’s end. After Hopewell, there is a gap of four shots to American Derek Ackerman and NSW amateur Jeffrey Guan at 10 under.
“I didn’t hit it my best today if I’m absolutely honest, but I putted the dots off it,” said Becker, who had begun in the final group, a shot ahead of Guan, who struggled with a 73 today.
Becker made five birdies and two eagles, chipping in from the right side of the par-4 fifth hole for a two, but he said later that it was his scrambling ability that kept his momentum running. Notably he made par from more than six metres at the par-4 13th hole and holed out from off the green at the par-4 16th hole after missing the green to the right.
His first eagle, at the fifth, came after he took on the trees and went for the green, then stunned his chip into the back and watched it trickle down the hill and in. “It looked great from I reckon 10 feet out,” he said. “I was going to walk it in all the way but then I thought ‘I’d better not be that arrogant’.”
The greens ran lightning fast in the perfect sunshine today but the scoring was low. Local teaching pro Ollie Goss shot 64 to equal the course record, and then 45 minutes later the 20-year-old Hopewell tapped in an easy birdie at the last for a 63 and a new landmark.
Hopewell, still an amateur, was four under through six holes today and immediately began thinking about lowering the course record at his home track. By the time he got to the 18th, he was already eight under and needed another birdie to do it.
“I thought ‘I’ve got to smash a drive over the trees to give myself a chance of birdie’,” he said later. “I did that with a little bit of down breeze across the corner, then I hit six iron to about 30 foot, putted it up to a foot and there it is … 63.”
Hopewell said he tried to remain in the moment today. “It was always on my mind but I tried not to think about it, stay calm and play like I would on a Sunday afternoon when I’m on my own or with my Dad and my sister.”
Becker will earn a two-year exemption to play on the Australasian Tour if he can win tomorrow. With a four-shot lead, it is in his hands, but the WA star is not about to make any changes of approach.
“If you change the way you’ve been playing, you’re just not playing how you play,” he said. “I’ve got a four-shot lead because I’ve been playing the way I play. If I hit a couple of bad shots, I hit a couple of bad shots. It’s just for me to deal with tomorrow and hopefully I hit more good ones than bad ones. The whole part of my game is not far away from being really, really good. I’m happy with it.”
New South Wales star Cameron Pollard dominated day one of the WA Open All Abilities Championship despite struggling on “the fastest greens I’ve ever seen”.
Pollard is five shots ahead of the remainder of the field after opening with an 87 today.
“That was very tough,” said Pollard. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. They’re very quick. It’s brutal. You just tap it and it keeps going.”
Pollard, from Sawtell on the north coast of NSW, is a previous winner of various All Abilities championships.
First tee-offs for the final day at Royal Fremantle tomorrow are at 8.20am with the leaders of the Nexus Advisernet WA Open beginning at 10.30am.
Entry is free.