Harold Varner III's love affair with Royal Pines has showed no signs of flickering out, with the American putting himself in contention to challenge for another Joe Kirkwood Cup during the second round of the Australian PGA Championship on the Gold Coast.
Varner made it back-to-back rounds of 69 to be in the clubhouse at six under on Friday, putting him in an ideal position to make another run on Saturday on a course that has proven to be the happiest of hunting grounds.
Contender: Harold Varner has put himself right in the frame to win a second Australian PGA Championship.Credit:AAP
The Ohio golfer has been a regular in the PGA field and has made it count, losing a play-off to Nathan Holman in 2015, taking the tournament out in 2016 and finishing sixth last year.
Now 28, Varner said he had returned an even better player but placed little currency in his past success on the course, especially with world-class players such as Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith making strong charges on Friday.
"I think I'm a lot better player right now than I was a couple years ago. Yeah, it gives me confidence, but it's in the past," Varner said.
"It has nothing to do with what's going to happen this week. I guess you can look at it that way but I don't know, I don't really think about it. That's history now."
Varner was on the course early and out of the blocks in fine style. Starting on 10, Varner picked up birdies in his first three holes, then another on 15, as he made a rapid climb to the top of the leaderboard.
But he splashed an iron on the par-three second for a double bogey, before having some good fortune as he holed out a chip for a birdie on eight, then rescued another one out of the water on nine to scramble a welcome par.
"Just hit an errant shot on I guess two but it is what it is. I've just got to keep keep doing what I'm doing. I think something good's going to happen," Varner said.
"The last two holes were really good. You know, to hit it in the water on nine and make par and a little bit of luck, that's the kind of things you need to go your way. Just excited to be here and have an opportunity."
New South Welshman Dimitrios Papadatos had the early clubhouse lead when he added a 70 to his opening round of 67 to finish at seven under and ensure he starts among the leading groups over the weekend.
He said the course had been tricky and punished players that strayed from the script. But there were birdies to be made, which is what would transpire in the later groups, with Smith making seven in his first 10 holes as he mounted his defence.
"Obviously it is tricky out there but it's definitely doable. There's been a few guys that have had low scores around here, so it's definitely doable," Papadatos said.
"It's one of those courses that you have to be playing well the whole round. As soon as you hit one bad shot on any of the holes, you've got a bit of a task ahead of you."
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