Geoff Ogilvy said the Emirates Australian Open was like a major to homecoming players, and he should know. The Melburnian has won a real major (the 2006 US Open) and an Open (2010 at The Lakes), and right now, he is playing like he used to play.
The 39-year-old Ogilvy carved up Royal Sydney with a 64, one of his best-ever rounds in the circumstances, to seize the lead in the Open going into the final day.
He will start with a buffer of two shots at 11-under par, playing alongside his Scottsdale, Arizona neighbour of quite a few years, Aaron Baddeley, who is trying to mimic his 1999 Australian Open win at this venue.
Baddeley (67 today) was an 18-year-old amateur when he won the tournament in 1999; 17 years on, he is a much-travelled professional who has seen the peaks and valleys of playing the game for a living. He is right in the mix.
So is world No. 5 Jordan Spieth, who carded a 69 to move into position at nine-under, tied-second and in a similar position to where he was in 2014 when he smashed The Australian with a closing 63 to win. New Zealand Ryan Fox (71 today) also is tied-second at nine-under, seeking to be the first Kiwi to win the Australian Open, but even the likes of Rod Pampling (eight-under) and Adam Scott (seven-under) are not without a chance.
It is a mouth-watering leaderboard but Ogilvy, one of Australia’s most accomplished players with three World Golf Championships to go with his triumph at Winged Foot 10 years ago, sits comfortably at the top again. In tricky winds, he began by hitting it close and making birdie, adding another at the par-five second, and four consecutive birdies from the sixth sent him through the front nine in 30.
The leaders were going nowhere, and by the time he reached the par-five 16th he had a share of the lead, and he hit a beautiful long iron shot to the green and two putted for a birdie to take the outright lead, then saved his best for the iconic 18th hole. Wedging from just 120 metres, Ogilvy almost holed out with a shot that fed off the little ridge behind the flag and trickled back toward the cup. A tap-in birdie gave him a 64.
“To be honest, I didn’t really see 64 on the first tee,” he said. “But after going out so well on the front nine, I kind of started seeing a score like that, so it was nice.”
Something has clicked for Ogilvy recently, after he needed to activate a career-earnings exemption to play the current season on the US PGA Tour. “It’s just getting out of my head and not thinking about it too much,” he said. “Just rolling the ball like I used to. It’s been coming. I’m not shocked that they all went in, it’s just pleasant.”
The Victorian was No. 3 in the world at his peak, and one of the best wedge players on the planet. But in his late-30s, he hit a lull that he might just come out of tomorrow.
“It’s been a frustrating period, not through lack of effort,” he said. “Probably it’s been more effort that’s made it harder, you know what I mean? Golf is such a fine line, you try harder and it usually doesn’t work, but then you play worse, so you try harder again.”
Perth’s Min Woo Lee is the leading amateur at six-under, showing great composure under pressure in his first Open, but Sydney’s Travis Smyth is just one shot back in the race for that prize.
Tomorrow, the top three players who have not already qualified for the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 2017 will win spots for that major. Ogilvy, Aaron Baddeley and Fox are at the head of that list.