Marquee man Pieters on top in Perth


Mention a three-year winless streak to Thomas Pieters and you are quickly corrected.

World Cup champions with Belgian teammate Thomas Detry at Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne last November, Pieters has had a recent taste of that winning feeling.

But for a player once ranked as high as No.23 in the world, he is also acutely aware that it has been a long time since he has won a trophy all of his own.

“It’s been two years, six months and something,” Pieters rattles off, referring to his win at the Made In Denmark tournament in August 2016.

A three-time winner on the European Tour and 2016 Ryder Cup representative, Pieters cast off a head cold to live up to top billing at the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth tournament with a breathtaking round of 6-under 66 at Lake Karrinyup Country Club.

Seven birdies in his opening 11 holes on Friday – and a bogey at the par-4 4th – saw Pieters join Ryan Fox, Matthew Griffin and Panuphol Pittayarat at the top of the leaderboard before taking sole possession of the lead with his eighth birdie of the day at the par-4 14th.

A three-putt bogey at the par-3 17th sees him head into the third round tied at the top and justifying his position as the tournament’s marquee man.

“It’s nice when people give you that title,” Pieters said of his headliner status.

“It’s nice to be up there and to show that even though I’ve made two doubles I’m still up there and that I can play some golf.”

Battling illness since arriving in Perth on Monday, Pieters looked in danger of missing the halfway cut when he made back-to-back double bogeys midway through his opening round.

He responded with four birdies in his final six holes to post 2-under 70 and with the momentum to make a charge on Friday.

“I was pretty mad at the time,” Pieters said of his consecutive double bogeys on Thursday.

“Statistically speaking I bounce back good.

“Obviously after making one double, to make another is because I was mentally still on the last hole.

“Afterwards I kept pretty calm and I knew I was playing good golf.

“Same today. I’ve made a couple of bogeys but I knew I was going to make a lot of birdies as well.”

A masterfully executed up-and-down from the back of the par-5 11th gave Pieters a share of the lead, birdie putts at 12 and 13 only narrowly missing.

The 27-year-old drove the green at the 302-metre par-4 14th for a two-putt birdie but poor iron shots at 15 and 16 necessitated par saves to remain one shot clear of the field.

“I just took the wrong shot,” Pieters said of his 4-iron approach to the par-5 15th that went into the water right of the green.

“I had so much room on the left. I was going for the perfect cut 4-iron to a tight flag, which is dumb in my eyes. Looking back, just hit something at that bunker and if it goes in, you get up and down.

“It’s stuff I have to learn. I’m still learning. I’m 27 and I’ve got a long time to go.

“Looking back now, I’ve learnt that stuff like that that doesn’t help me trying to hit the perfect shot all the time.”

Sitting one shot shy of the leaders are West Australian Matt Jager, Englishman Richard McEvoy and Scottish rookie Robert MacIntyre at 7-under par with Brad Kennedy, Adrian Otaegui, Berry Henson, Ben Campbell and Clement Sordet all at 6-under par.

66 players finished inside the cut line of 1-under par with the round of the day – a 7-under 65 – belonging to Scotland’s Grant Forrest to be 5-under for the tournament.

The top-24 players at the end of the third round qualify for the knockout match play phase of the tournament with the top eight to receive a first round bye.

Play commences on Saturday at 10am local time.

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