Hendry happy to to be the one to watch out for

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2014
Michael Hendry
Pivotal player in this year’s New Zealand Open golf tournament Michael Hendry stands amongst some of the sculpture installations on Sir Michael Hill’s The Hills golf course, home of the tournament.

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Even most of his opposition think of Michael Hendry as the defending champion in Arrowtown this week, a tag the man himself is only too happy to accept.

The New Zealand No 1 won the last two professional tournaments - the New Zealand PGA Championship - played at The Hills which operated under the same pro-am format as this week's New Zealand Open.

The only differences are: the field is slightly stronger, the Brodie Breeze trophy for the New Zealand Open champion is on the line, and one of the players' opening two rounds will be down the road at the equally spectacular Millbrook Resort.

"It feels like a situation where I'm coming back to defend again," Hendry said.

"Just knowing I've had so much success around this course before, it brings back a lot of good feelings. I feel comfortable straight away, I know how to play here and I know how to win."

The course clearly suits him as does the pro-am format which will see him play with former top-20 player American Rocco Mediate, and two amateurs, former test cricketer Mark Richardson and Rebel Sport boss Rod Duke.

"It's a very positional course. Generally, you put yourself in position off the tee, then attack the flags from there.

"It's not a course you're going to overpower with distance because you can get yourself in a lot of trouble. It's more about plotting your way around the course accurately."

Hendry said that's the type of golf which suits him best. And while the public and even his opposition are talking up Hendry's chances up, the man himself said that comes with pitfalls.

‘There's a certain level of expectation you put on yourself because you know you can play pretty well around this golf course. But you just have to treat it like it's any other tournament."

But it's not like any other tournament.

This is the New Zealand Open, a tournament Hendry rates second only to winning a major.

And he'd dearly love to add it to his ever-growing CV, which now boasts four professional wins, before heading back to the Japan Golf Tour for a second year.

"It would be nice to have both titles [the NZPGA Championship and the New Zealand Open] at the same time."

Hendry is the leading hope to break an 11-year drought since a New Zealander last won the national tournament, but he's not a lone horse.

Ryan Fox and Gareth Paddison are both playing well and are confident, while Mark Brown has a steely determination to him this week.

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Brown came to Arrowtown early and his accuracy and ball-striking make him one to watch if he can get his putter hot.

It's Brown's experience that could be key this week, especially as the two courses are playing almost like three.

Millbrook's back nine has been redeveloped by Greg Turner - one of eight previous New Zealand Open winners in the field - and according to Brown will play slightly differently from the front nine.

The top ranked player in the field is world No 125 Scott Hend and though he said The Hills course "does my head in", he's too good to write off.

Go to Stuff.co.nz for rolling coverage of the New Zealand Open, which begins this morning.

- Fairfax Media

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