Golf: Nitties shrugs off back injury to drive into contention at Australian PGA

LEADING THE WAY: Marc Leishman birdied three of the opening five holes on the way to a seven-under 65 to be the equal leader at the halfway point of the Australian PGA at Royal Pines Golf Club. Pictures: AAP Images
LEADING THE WAY: Marc Leishman birdied three of the opening five holes on the way to a seven-under 65 to be the equal leader at the halfway point of the Australian PGA at Royal Pines Golf Club. Pictures: AAP Images

JAMES Nitties will not be thinking about anything but getting some confidence back with his driver when he tees off in the third round of the $1.5 million Australian PGA at Royal Pines on the Gold Coast on Saturday.

Nitties added a 69 on Friday to an opening-round 68 to be in a tie for seventh at seven under.

GONE: Draw card Adam Scott struggled with a second-round 74 to miss the cut.

GONE: Draw card Adam Scott struggled with a second-round 74 to miss the cut.

Aussie US PGA Tour-winner Marc Leishman (67-65) and Victoria Adam Bland (66-66) are joint-leaders at 12 under. In a mixed day for Hunter golfers, Andrew Dodt (71-70) is in a tie for 25th but Nathan Green (74-72) and Callan O’Reilly (74-75) missed the cut.

For Nitties, victory in the co-sanctioned European Tour event would ensure “I have a job next year” but, for now, his focus is on correcting a wayward driver.

ON COURSE: James Nitties is well placed in a tie for seventh at seven under.

ON COURSE: James Nitties is well placed in a tie for seventh at seven under.

“I wouldn’t say I need to attack, but I need to clean up my driver a bit,” Nitties said. “I have had plenty of birdie opportunities but lost a bit of confidence with the driver. It is going both ways. I think it is more a confidence thing. I hit it pretty good at the Aussie Open when I was limited with my back. I am swinging my irons great. I just have to slow it down and be a bit more confident, and it will be fine. Then it is just all about making the putts and trying to catch the boys at the top.”

Nitties, from Charlestown, had been struggling with back spasms. He withdraw from the NSW a fortnight ago and was at about 70% at the Australian Open, where he finished in a tie for 37th at two over.

“The back is a lot better,” Nitties said. “It’s funny, the better my back started to feel, the worse I started hitting my driver. I am trying to continue the sore-back swing.”

The 36-year-old, who does not have any tour status next year, recorded six birdies and three bogeys on Friday.

Starting on the 10th hole, he was at five under with two holes to play and finished birdie, birdie to finish at seven under.

“I was pretty fortunate to hole a 15-footer on the eighth hole (his 17th), and then I hit it in the front bunker on nine and made a birdie there,” Nitties said. “My iron-play has been really good. I put a new set of Taylor Made irons in last week and they have been awesome. I have picked up an extra 10-15 metres with each club. That is pretty much it and I managed to hole a couple of putts. It was pretty gettable this morning. Perfect conditions, the greens were good but I still made a couple of pretty soft bogeys.”

Nitties, who hasn’t won a tour event in two years ago, said he would attack the course without taking too many risks.

“It is the last event of the year and every dollar counts,” he said. “I don’t really have status anywhere next year. It gives me that breathing room to go and do qualifiers and travel, searching for events. I just have to take advantage of the opportunity, try and move up that leader board and give it a crack Sunday. I wouldn’t mind some money right now, but on the flip side, you have to take advantage of the opportunity in the last event of the year. Being co-sanctioned, if you win, that would give me a job next year.”

Adam Scott missed the cut for the first time since 2010 after a string of missed putts. A winner in 2013 and runner-up in a play-off the following year at Royal Pines, Scott imploded on the last seven holes on Friday to shoot 74 and finish one over.

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