Darren Clarke’s swing changes are plainly taking effect as he opened with a two under 70 to share 19th place behind the unheralded Daniel Popovic in the Australian PGA at the Palmer Coolum Resort.
Popovic, 26, had nine birdies and one bogey in an eight-under 64 to lead by two strokes from Scott Strange with former winner Geoff Ogilvy, China’s Zhang Xin Jun and Singapore’s Tze-huang Choo tied for third on five under.
While Greg Norman was forced to withdraw suffering from food poisoning after making bogeys at his first two holes, Clarke’s game showed signs of recovery after what he admits has been a “frustrating” year.
The 44-year old veteran birdied the first, third and fourth to get to three under and had just 25 putts as he followed bogey fours at the short eighth and 11th with a birdie three at the 17th.
The Dungannon man was playing alongside Geoff Ogilvy, who had two eagles and three birdies in his 67
“I felt like I got away with it a bit, I mean the two eagles I had were a really long putt from off the green and a chip in,” Ogilvy said. “I kind of snuck away with a couple today … I felt I was doing the best I could having five-under today.”
Australian Open winner Peter Senior also made a bright start, carding a four-under 68 to sit in a four-way share of sixth.
As for Norman, one of the event’s star attractions alongside Clarke, Ogilvy and Jeff the T-Rex replica, Australian PGA CEO Brian Thorburn was sympathetic.
“Feeling for Greg at the moment,” Thorburn said. “He is quite ill we understand. He is getting medical attention. We wish him a very speedy recovery this morning. Great shame it happened at this moment.”
After starting his round at the 10th hole at 7.00am local time, Norman battled to consecutive bogeys before shaking hands with playing partners Stuart Appleby and Jake Higginbottom on the 11th green.
“I haven’t spoken to him,” Thorburn added. “I have spoken to his manager and I have spoken to the guys who saw him this morning. They’re all facilitating medical treatment. One person described it as sick as a dog. I think Greg was trying to soldier through and clearly it wasn’t possible.”
Veteran Peter Senior, winner of last week’s Australian Open at the age of 53, was in a four-way tie for sixth after a 68.
There wasn’t a peep out of Jeff, the 25ft dinosaur, according to Phil Lutton of the Sydney Morning Herald:
Unlike his owner Clive Palmer, not a shy man, Jeff was eerily quiet over the first day of the Australian PGA Championship at Coolum.
He was following directions to a tee. There was no bellowing, no roaring, not even a golf clap from his tiny, useless arms. All he did was hypnotically wag his tail and wobble around in the strong winds buffeting the golf course at Palmer’s new resort.
The T-Rex is already on twitter with the handle @JefftheTRex. Not all his tweets are politically correct:
Zhang Xinjun says he’s “astonished” to see a dinosaur on the golf course. Well I’m astonished to see him on the leaderboard. #rahhh