Golf: Aboriginal pro surprises himself with US form

Any other PGA Tour rookie might be rattled to see Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood surrounding him on the leaderboard. Scott Gardiner was delighted, which speaks more of how he got there than where it might lead.

After missing eight consecutive cuts, Gardiner ended that streak in style yesterday in the Wells Fargo Championship with a five-under 67 that left him tied for second (with Nick Watney and George McNeil), two strokes behind Mickelson and one ahead of McIlroy and Westwood at Quail Hollow.

"It's nice to be in the same tournament as they are. That's my first thought," Gardiner said.

The 37-year-old certainly has paid his dues. Gardiner was the first Aboriginal to turn pro, which he credits to a scholarship program called "The Hunt for the Australian Tiger" that began in 2000 when Tiger Woods won three majors.

That enabled him to go from a good amateur to an aspiring pro, and while nothing has come easily, the Aussie has enjoyed every bit of it.

The eight years on the Web.com Tour. Marrying an Arkansas girl and settling in the US. Narrowly missing his PGA Tour card in 2010 when he finished 26th on the money list, and looking at it more as improvement than failure.

Even this year has been a struggle. Gardiner made his PGA Tour debut in the Sony Open and played in the next to last group Sunday, tying for 15th.

"I got a false impression," he said. "These guys are good. I'm not going to lie."

He hasn't made a cut since the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in early February, and he said that "nobody was more surprised than I am" that his name was atop the leaderboard. When a reporter asked him why he was surprised, Gardiner laughed and said, "Have you seen my resume this year?"

Gardiner kept plugging away and he hooked up with Dave Stockton this week to work on his short game.

Gardiner felt he wasn't scoring as well as he should have been and that hasn't been an issue through 36 holes. He was at seven-under 137.

Gardiner has shown remarkable resilience over the years. His father had him play just about any sport and Gardiner first showed form in the discus.

His father played golf once a month and there was no shortage of junior golf clinics on the Gold Coast. The big break, however, came from the National Aboriginal Sports Corporation of Australia, which provided scholarships.

"They gave a lot of kids scholarships to work in the golf industry - not just to try to play great golf, but in offices to be an assistant pro or try to become a pro," he said. "It was a great leg up for me to chase my dream."

• Meanwhile, in Beijing, back-to-back NZ PGA championship winner Michael Hendry hit a five-under 67 to sit 23rd after the second round of the European PGA Tour's China Open but hit 75 last night to fall back to tied 48th. Fellow Kiwi Mark Brown also improved, with a 70, but - like Gareth Paddison - failed to make it through to weekend play.

Finland's Mikko Ilonen fired a record-equalling nine-under-par 63 to claim a three-shot lead. Seeking his first victory since 2007, Ilonen was at 12-under, with former winners Australian Brett Rumford and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat snapping at his heels after both shot 67 in the second round.

The cut also eliminated 12-year-old local wonder boy Ye Wo Cheng, who became the youngest player to take part in a OneAsia or European Tour event.

- AP, AFP

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