Riley plays the professional to perfection

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Golf

Wayne Riley's image is not what it was. Even John Daly, the original wild man of golf, has relabelled him the "mild colonial boy".

That his head was not separated from his torso yesterday as putts bubbled all over the Aroeira greens enabled Riley to record a 65 in the Portuguese Open. At six under par, he is two shots behind the first-round leader, Klas Eriksson of Sweden.

"I was what you might call a colourful character," Riley said. "But now you can come and watch me as much as you like and it will be fairly boring. I am more professional."

Playing in the second match of the day, the Australian took advantage of virtually untouched putting surfaces to be out in 30. There again, he saved himself too much trouble with his broomhandled putter by three times hitting short iron shots to within 18 inches of the hole. At the 504-yard 15th, he got within two feet with a driver and three-iron to set up an eagle.

Then it was a matter of holding together the score, and the head, over the (already trampled) front nine. "It was always in the back of my mind that the front nine was coming up," he said. "The greens are no one's fault, it's just the weather, but they look as if they ran the Grand National over them. You need a bit of luck."

Riley has a base in Surrey and is a member at Camberley Heath, to which, minus the heather, the treelined Aroeira course is comparable. The pro there, Gary Smith, is his coach and spent time recently with Riley in Australia. Victory at last summer's Scottish Open at Carnoustie, over the likes of Faldo and Montgomerie, came as a relief after 10, sometimes uproarious, years in Europe.

At his first tournament in Britain, he kicked a ball off a green in full view of the TV cameras and at an event in France his then girlfriend considered the best way to deliver an ice cream was to run across a green in high heels. "I didn't get fined for that one," he said.

"When I was young, I was perceived as being hot-headed. But now I am 33 and everybody grows up. For eight years, golf was my profession, but I was more interested in going round the world having a good time. When I got to 29, I decided it was time to play more seriously."

Almost a metre of rain has fallen in the Lisbon area since November, hampering preparations of the course, but it took a delay of more than two hours for early-morning fog to get a new entry in the catalogue of bad weather stories on this year's tour. Several players will have to complete their rounds this morning. Of the later starters, only Cambridge's Russell Claydon, who matched Ricky Willison's earlier 66, came close to threatening Eriksson's course record of 63.

The first thing the 24-year-old does when arriving at a new destination is find a gym for his daily hour's weightlifting. In nearby Caparica, he walked 500 yards from his hotel and found an establishment that caters mainly for the retired.

After two years on tour plagued by a wrist tendon problem, Eriksson is stronger and longer off the tee than ever. "Weightlifting is also psychological," he added. Eriksson has failed to make a cut in four events this year but, having bogeyed the fourth, he atoned to the tune of nine birdies in the next 11 holes.

PORTUGUESE OPEN (Aroeira, nr Lisbon) Early leading first round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 63 K Eriksson (Swe). 65 W Riley (Aus). 66 R Willison; R Claydon. 67 D Borrego (Sp); J Haeggman (Swe); J Coceres (Arg); D Silva (Por); P Haugsrud (Nor). 68 R Rafferty; M McLean; M Gronberg (Swe); M Besanceney (Fr); O Karlsson (Swe); D Smyth; P Linhart (Sp); F Lindgren (Swe). 69 T Gogele (Ger); J Payne; R Muntz (Neth); J Townsend (US). 70 A Coltart; M Roe; R Boxall; C Hall; R Dinsdale; C Cevaer (Fr); L Westwood; B Lane; D Robertson; D Feherty; E Darcy; P Affleck.

Comments