Lonard back in the swing

THE gallery of about 50 people who followed him around Merewether yesterday ensured Peter Lonard was in the right frame of mind for his return to tournament golf.

In his first serious game since undergoing hip and knee surgery nine months ago, the multiple Australian Open and Australian PGA champion shot a two-under-par 68 in the first round of the 36-hole Merewether Pro-Am to be equal second, one behind Canberra’s Damon Welsford (67).

Lonard opened with a birdie three on the par-four first, gave that shot back with a bogey on the par-five fifth, then birdied the 10th and 11th holes and completed his round even with the card.

‘‘I was as nervous as I’ve nearly ever been, standing on the first tee. It’s been a while since my last competitive round,’’ said Lonard, who will try to regain his US PGA Tour card at the cut-throat qualifying school next month. ‘‘The gallery was big enough so that I felt I had to be on my game. It felt like I was playing tournament golf.

‘‘I struck the ball pretty well and my back held up OK. It’s a bit stiff but as good as could be expected and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I think I’ll wake up fine and have no issues with it, so today’s been a good first step.’’

Welsford had birdies at the fourth, sixth, 11th, 12th and 17th, dropping shots at the long par-three eighth and the par-four 10th.

Martin Dive shot 68 to be equal second with Lonard, one clear of a group of five – Steven Hassett, Ben Burge, Nathan Page, Neven Basic and Neil Sarkies – on 69.

Nelson Bay’s Grant Scott and Belmont’s Corey Hale were the best of the Hunter pros, shooting one-over 71. Former Belmont junior Mitchell Pryor, now at Wyong, fired a 71.

The $17,500 tournament concludes today.