Alker in confident mood
It's a different Steven Alker playing in this year's New Zealand Open to the one that missed the cut at the same tournament 16 months ago.
And version 2.0 certainly isn't short on confidence.
He won last week's New Zealand PGA championships at Clearwater and was the leading New Zealander after the first round at The Hills, near Arrowtown, yesterday.
His four under 68 included seven birdies and three bogeys.
Playing alongside Danny Lee and United States player Vance Veazy, the trio profited from the morning's benign mood after starting at the par 3 10th.
From the 14th to the 18th the group reaped 11 birdies between them.
"We were just feeding off each other and going along quite nicely," Alker said.
"I guess I made a couple of nice putts on my back nine to keep things going. The front nine I almost hit every shot exactly where I wanted, except for maybe a drive on, I think it was 12."
Since winning in Christchurch last week, a series of engagements have kept Alker away from the course, something he said had been a benefit.
He has been working on his short game and continues to enjoy the benefits of the greater distance he has been developing over the past 18 months.
The 2007 Open was not a good time for him, Alker admitted.
"I was really crook when I came down. I had a bad spell there for about a month, I was not good at all. I wasn't feeling the best and didn't have the best of spirits probably."
Alker was full of praise for the 18-year-old Lee, who carded a one-under 71.
Lee had not been affected by what was probably the biggest gallery at The Hills yesterday, in fact he was in cheeky form at the start of his round, putting his hooded sweatshirt on backwards with the hood over his face.
After going from rough to bunker on his second hole of the day, the par four 11th, and finding himself one over, Lee birdied four of the last five holes before the turn.
His hard work was undone when he bogied three of his last four holes, although it is important to remember that Lee is still only 18. Watching him play it can be easy to forget.
Despite the likelihood of more windy conditions over the next few days, Alker was adamant the hot scoring was not over.
"There's still opportunities out there. That's the great thing about this golf course, there's a lot of scoring opportunities, yet there's a couple of holes where you have to stand up and hit ... and hang on and if you don't you are penalised."