Big Bernd Wiesberger eases into pole position at Shenzhen International

Three-time European Tour winner from Austria cards a bogey-free seven-under-par 65 to lead Shenzhen International before Friday’s thunderstorm forces play to be abandoned

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 7:25pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 10:24pm

Three-time European Tour winner Bernd Wiesberger strolled to a bogey-free seven-under-par 65 to hold the 36-hole clubhouse lead at 12-under before Friday’s play was abandoned at the US$2.8 million Shenzhen International in China.

After carding eight birdies in 20 holes at Genzon Golf Club on Friday, the easy-going Austria No 1 was four ahead of Danish star Thorbjørn Olesen (68) and South African rookie Dylan Frittelli (68) before play was suspended at 2.40pm due to the threat of lightning.

Play was later abandoned due to heavy rain and lightning. First-round leader Bubba Watson was one-under after five holes and seven-under overall, and will be among half the field returning early on Saturday morning to complete their second rounds.

Wiesberger, the field’s third-ranked player behind Watson and Tommy Fleetwood, woke up at 4.30am in order to complete the last two holes of his opening round, having been among a third of the field unable to finish 18 holes on Thursday due to a two-hour weather delay.

Bubba Watson shoots sizzling 66 to take clubhouse lead on ‘great day’ at Shenzhen International

After picking up a birdie on the par-five 17th before signing for an opening 67, Wiesberger then teed off on 10 and cruised through his second round, the big-hitting World Number 43 rarely looking in trouble as he picked off birdies at 13, 14, 17, one, four, seven and nine.

“It was a good flow, even though I was out there for over five hours, which was a bit draining after an early wake-up,” said Wiesberger, 31, who birdied four of the five par-fives he played on Friday.

“I started off well and picked up from the day before. I got in my round of 67 early, so I was pleased with that and I kept going that way, driving the ball nicely and putting really well.

“If you play well, you let the rhythm take over and that’s what has happened this week, so hopefully we will have more smooth walks over the next 36 holes.”

Calmly strolling along like Ernie Els, one of his idols, the 1.90-metre tall Austrian made the round look easy, hitting fairways regularly to avoid trouble and give himself birdie chances throughout the day.

“I could really rely on my driving, which is key here. I didn’t hit the ball particularly well with my short irons and wedges, but I just picked up birdies along the way and kept the momentum going, going, going. I did that nicely today,” said Wiesberger, who said “The Big Easy” has always been generous with advice and supportive of many younger players.

“I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Ernie a lot, including at the Masters two weeks ago. I played with him on the first two days and it’s nice just watching him swing the golf club. He’s quite a big guy and he swings it very gently, very smoothly, like his nickname. It’s relaxing watching that big, smooth swing.”

Wiesberger has an excellent record in Asia, winning his first European Tour title at the 2012 Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea and the Asian Tour’s Indonesian Masters in 2013. This year, he tied for fourth at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in the UAE and was third at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia.

Now, after missing the first two editions of the Shenzhen International, Wiesberger is seeking to become the third tournament debutant to win the title and follow Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat (2015) and Korea’s Lee Soo-min (2016).

“When I played a few holes on Tuesday, I said to my caddie that it feels like a course that suits me and suits my game,” he said.

“I knew I was playing decent coming into this week. I’ve had good golfing weeks over in the States, but just couldn’t get the results going and it just feels nice over here. Everything has fitted in nicely.”

Olesen, 27, started with back-to-back 68s as he bids to win a European Tour title for the fourth straight season and fifth time overall.

Playing in the group ahead of Wiesberger, the Dane birdied the par-four 10th and par-threes at 12 and 16 before suffering a bogey at 18. He then picked up shots at the par-five second and par-four sixth to stay within touch of the leader.

“To be honest, I felt like I hit it a bit better yesterday. I hit a few loose drives today, but managed to keep it in play and hit some good wedges. I hit a few really close and made the birdies I needed to, plus no mistakes so that was nice,” Olesen said.

“I hit a really poor tee-shot on 18 and it’s a tough hole, but it was actually a good bogey in the end after an up and down, so I’ll take that. Besides that, I was always on the green, close to the pin, so it was pretty easy not to make too many bogeys.

“It has been very hot and I started early this morning, so I’m a bit tired. I’ll have a little rest so I’m ready to try and shoot a good number tomorrow.”

Frittelli, Jordan Spieth’s former college teammate, led earlier in the day after the 26-year-old followed his opening 68 with birdies at three, nine, 10, 11 and 13.

However, a double bogey on the par-four 15th halted the Tour rookie’s charge before he partially made amends with a birdie at the par-five 17th.

“It was a good round today, another 68. One bad mistake, but besides that, I played great and hopefully I can continue to play well at the weekend,” said Frittelli, who played with compatriot George Coetzee (68).

“George also played great today and made a bunch of birdies and an eagle on 17, although he also had a couple of mistakes. If he keeps the bogeys off the card, he’s going to be a threat this weekend.”

Frittelli was a regular visitor to China while playing on the Challenge Tour and finished eighth on last year’s Road to Oman money list to earn a full European Tour card.

Frittelli, who lost a three-way play-off at the 2015 Australian PGA Championship, has finished in the top 30 in his last four European Tour events.