Australian duo Jordan Zunic and Adam Bland have stolen the joint lead after Masters champion Sergio Garcia overcame an early tee time and heavy rain to impress on his Australian PGA Championship debut on the Gold Coast.
Beginning alongside Adam Scott at 6.10am (AEST) on Thursday, Garcia shot a five-under 67 despite not seeing the Royal Pines course until this week. His bogey-free round came despite heavy showers forcing play to be suspended twice, and he led for the bulk of the day until six birdies in seven holes from Bland saw the Australian claim the lead.
Zunic eagled the last to join Bland at six-under, while Senior also went bogey-free in his first fully fledged tournament appearance in more than a year.
Fresh off his Greg Normal Medal win on Tuesday night, Leishman overcame a slow start to go bogey, eagle, birdie, par and birdie in a whirlwind final five holes to draw level with Garcia.
Starting on the 10th hole, Garcia had two birdies on the back nine and three on the front. A superb wedge approach led to a tap-in birdie and the outright lead with three holes to play. He followed that with a birdie on the par-4 8th to put an exclamation mark on his first round in Australia since 2010.
The Spaniard credited his new-found patience in the face of the many things not in his favour.
“I’ve never teed off at 6.10 in a tournament … so that was interesting,” he said. “I think it was probably the closest I’ve had a dinner and a breakfast ever.
“I think the best thing about it was … really being very patient even in the tough moments and realising that those moments are going to happen and you’ve just got to deal with that the best way possible.”
But in a warning to his rivals, Garcia seemed to think he had plenty in the tank.
“I felt like I played pretty solid. I wouldn’t say that it was amazing but it was good,” he said.
Scott finished one-under, having held a share of the early lead after a bright start with his reintroduced broomstick putter.
The former world No. 1 picked up two birdies in the first three holes, but he dropped both shots when he found water on the par3 16th hole. He then holed another eight-foot putt on the 18th as he went through the first nine in good shape.
Scott has gone back to a long-handled putter this week, having used one to win the 2013 Masters. He then switched to a short putter before a subsequent ban on anchored putting strokes was enforced last year.
Garcia said he kept an eye on Scott’s technique after reforms were introduced prohibiting the long putter from touching the chest.
“I looked at him throughout the whole day and you could see that he was making sure he had it away from his chest,” Garcia said. “We talked about it and he’s very cautious to make sure that he’s holding it the way you should hold it, make sure he doesn’t anchor it at any time.”
Scott, meanwhile, said it felt “really good” to dust it off.
“I had a couple of putts that I would have liked to make from 15 feet or so that just slipped by but other than that it was really solid,” he said.
Scott’s move will be followed closely in the golfing world.
“On the putting green we were joking about it a bit,” Garcia said of his round one playing partner.
“But we know Scotty – he’s a great gentleman and a great boy and is never going to do anything that shouldn’t be done.”
When pressed, Garcia said he didn’t expect many players to follow Scott’s choice.
“It’s not easy to use it without anchoring. Some guys might have the nerve and touch to do it but it’s not easy,” the world No.11 said.