Concord Golf Club, 25 – 28 March 2021

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THE BATTLE: Golf’s odd couple ready to tango

THE BATTLE: Golf’s odd couple ready to tango

Nathan Barbieri, with his good mate Jordie Garner on the bag, was trying his best to minimise the stress of his third round at Concord today.

But here it was – and it came suddenly.

He’d just made a spectacular up and down from the sand for birdie on the 11th and probably sensed that he’d be, at worst, near the lead of a New South Wales Open that he’s coveted for years.

He slightly blocked his drive up the par-4 12th and then carved a spectacular low, slicing punch shot that only just trickled over the green, but left him a treacherous little bump shot for his first real test.

He played his third with only limited success as his ball trickled the best part of 8m past the cup and down a nasty slope.

As his putt climbed back up the hill, it began to turn wickedly from his left and broke into the cup on what would have been its second-last roll.

It brought the house down.

The roar from the gallery to the right of the green was something you’d expect in the closing stages of a national championship, not with 24 holes left to run.

Barbieri pumped his fist, then went to Garner and bumped knuckles.

But then the interesting bit …

This product of nearby North Ryde, now a member at Monash, was greeted by a handful of mates as he strode to the 13th tee and high-fived them all as their average heart rate settled down to a more manageable 100 or so beats a minute.

Meanwhile, in the same group, Bryden Macpherson walks on, pushing his own bag and striding out in a far more Zen-like manner.

The Victorian, who hasn’t had a single round worse than par on the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia in 2021, poured in eight birdies of his own today as the pair set themselves up for a final-round rendezvous tomorrow as golf’s version of the “Odd Couple”.

Tomorrow it will be Sydney’s raging bull against the in-form Melburnian who’s far more accustomed to that spotlight and its effects.

“I love the game, of course I’m going to be emotional,” Barbieri enthused after his round when asked how he’d deal with the moment and the inevitably vocal support he’ll have in his ears. 

“My mates are awesome, there’s so much support out here for me this week and it makes it even better to play in front of them.

“There aren’t many events in Sydney, so when it’s close like this and they can be there and see me, I’m loving the atmosphere.

“They’re worth a million dollars to me, I love ‘em. They’ve done a lot for me over the years and made me feel like a millionaire, it’s awesome … I want to put on a show for ‘em.”

Barbieri, who only turned professional before the NSW Regional Open series late last year, admitted, though, that he and Garner would need to keep their guard up for the final round.

“Hopefully if we’re in that position tomorrow, we won’t get a head of ourselves, but we’ll talk through a lot of things between us – I’m just looking forward to it.”

For his part, Macpherson, a veteran of several global tours but only recently a winner on home soil professionally for the first time, is a portrait of comparable calm having found a rich vein of scoring form.

“I think that groove is just understanding yourself a little better and knowing your stuff and how it works and how to keep it in line,” he said.

“And then you practise doing that under pressure; if I haven’t found it yet, I’m getting closer.”

We’ll learn a lot more about them both tomorrow in what shapes as an epic final round.

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