New Zealand rep Daniel Pearce has fired a superb four under par 68 to be in second place after round one of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand.
The 24-year-old from the Ashburton Golf Club will begin the second round at the Amata Spring Country Club only two shots back from China's Tianlang Guan who opened with a six under par 66.
Pearce is the leading Kiwi with Southland's Vaughan McCall and Waikato rep Compton Pikari in a share of 15th place after carding rounds of even par 72. Tasman golfer Blair Riordan is one shot further back in a share of 19th.
There is plenty to play for as the championship offers the winner an invitation to the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, while the champion and runner(s)-up earn spots in International Final Qualifying for The Open Championship.
Pearce, who earlier this year won the North Island Stroke Play at the Lochiel Golf Club, was fast out of the blocks in round one. He made five birdies on his front nine to make the turn in five under par 31.
He added a further birdie at the 11th to get to six under and the outright lead for the tournament. He made late bogeys on the 16th and 18th but was happy to sign for a four under par 68.
"It's pretty exciting to be in contention here," said Pearce.
"It doesn't happen every day so it was good to play well today and I feel like I deserve it."
Pearce, an intermittent rep for New Zealand over the past four years, has been based in Melbourne throughout 2012 as he eyes joining the pro ranks. He said the key to his low scoring in round one was his work on the greens.
"I had a hot putter out there today. I just kept the ball in play all day. I didn't miss many fairways all day which really helped as well."
Pearce had a lucky break keeping his ball in play on the fourth hole, his 13th, when he was buried in the rough and tried to muscle-out an approach shot to the green.
"It came out pretty dead and there is a creek about 60m short of the green and my ball bounced on the wooden bridge that runs across the creek and bounced up the green. I guess you could call that pretty damn lucky."
Golf has a funny way of levelling things out though. Pearce was unlucky on the seventh, his 16th, when his drive hit the cart path on the fairway and ricocheted into the jungle which led to his first bogey of the round.
"I thought I hit a really great drive. I was feeling really good so I gave it a little bit extra and gave it too much. I got lucky with where this finished. I could have played smarter there to make par but I went for it to try and make more birdies."
Pearce said all of the six Kiwi guys were pinching themselves about playing the prestigious event.
"This place is fantastic. It is real honour to come and play here and represent your country. This tournament is run so well. We are so well looked after and the course is fantastic it is a great experience."
James Beale (North Shore) is tied 44th after carding a four over par 76 while Peter Lee (Rotorua) is in a share of 60th place after signing for a six over par 78.
New Zealand amateurs have come close to winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur and earning the right to play at the Masters. In 2010 Peter Spearman-Burn and in 2011 Ben Campbell finished fourth and third respectively.
The event is organised by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A, and will feature up to 120 players from the APGC's 36 member associations. Nations are offered between two to six invitations depending on their players' WAGR ranking, while Thailand can have an additional four players as the host.
- The Southland Times