Chinese No.3 Yuan Yechun flirted with the course record and showed impressive resolve late to assume sole ownership of the lead through two rounds of the Australian PGA Championship at RACV Royal Pines Resort.
As close friends Adam Scott and Wade Ormsby reached 7-under at the completion of their second rounds in the morning, the primary Friday charge came from two-time defending champion Cameron Smith until word of Yuan’s round started to filter throughout the course.
Birdies at the first, third, fifth and seventh holes elevated Yuan to 6-under but his rise took on further significance when he eagled the par-5 ninth hole to play the front nine in 30.
A dropped shot at 10 stunted any talk of a possible sub-60 round and after rattling off three successive birdies from the 11th hole to be 8-under for the day – including a monster putt at the par-4 13th – Ross McGowan’s course record of 63 drifted from reach when he bogeyed both 15 and 16, his tee shot at the par-5 15th hole finding the water hazard left of the fairway.
A spectacular approach at the 17th hole to four feet was an impressive response, a regulation par at 18 rounding out a 7-under 65, tied with Smith as the best of the week thus far.
A graduate of the University of Washington and now playing on the secondary Korn Ferry Tour in the US, Yuan played alongside Phil Mickelson at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in November where he came away with a renewed sense of confidence in his ability.
“It was my second time playing actually, so I knew the course a little better,” Yuan said of his HSBC Champions experience.
“I got to play with Phil Mickelson on Saturday. That was awesome. He has an unbelievable short game.
“That was great. I learnt a lot from that and got a lot of confidence from playing with the big boys.”
First drawn to golf at nine years of age and inspired by Tiger Woods, Yuan won on the PGA TOUR Series-China tour shortly after turning professional and was tied for 17th at the WGC event last month, beating home major champions Henrik Stenson, Francesco Molinari and Mickelson himself.
A strong weekend at Royal Pines will aid Yuan’s hopes of representing China at the Tokyo Olympics next year but he knows that every great round comes with some good fortune.
“It was going good at first and I got some fortunate breaks, I have to say that,” admitted Yuan, who missed the cut in this event last year.
“It was a great day, honestly. I played great, played smart, stick to the plan.
“I was fortunate enough that I got a couple of really long putts that dropped through the round. Yeah, I made two little mistakes, but really pulled myself together and kept it going.”
Quayle’s rise up the leaderboard coincides with his pseudo-honeymoon after he and his partner Sophia were married on the Gold Coast last Sunday.
The 25-year-old showed no signs of the struggles that plagued him during the middle part of the Japan Golf Tour season as he used an eagle putt from 35 feet at the 15th as the backbone of a 6-under 66.
“I don’t want to ever shy away from how I struggled earlier this year. I think that is part of why I am who I am,” Quayle admitted, missing five cuts and withdrawing from another in an eight-event stretch where his best finish was a tie for 60th.
“Going through that has made me a lot tougher at the moment mentally, and any opportunity like this, you just enjoy it and have a little bit of fun.
“Obviously getting married on Sunday, to be honest, this week is a little bit of a holiday for me. I plan to keep it that way, just keep having a little bit of fun with it.”
Lying in wait behind Yuan and Quayle are Ormsby and Scott at 7-under with Gippsland Super 6 winner Tom Power Horan and Kiwi Michael Hendry locked together a further shot back in a tie for fifth following rounds of 66 and 68 respectively.
Smith (65) and South African Bryce Easton (68) are tied for seventh at 5-under par with a group of eight players locked together at 4-under.
American drawcards Cameron Champ and Stewart Cink both remain in contention for the Joe Kirkwood Cup at 3-under and 2-under respectively.
First groups will tee off the third round from 7.02am with Yuan and Quayle to tee off at 11.25am AEST.