In-form New Zealander Michael Hendry is on course to comfortably improve on his last Australian Masters' performance at Kingston Heath after the Australasian PGA Tour order of merit leader ended the opening round in esteemed company yesterday.
Hendry, who missed the cut when the $A1 million tournament was previously held on the Melbourne sandbelt layout in 2009, carded a solid, risk-free 5-under 67 to sit two shots off the pace set by surprise leader Queenslander, Matt Guyatt.
The 32-year-old Aucklander starts today's second round in a three-way share of second place alongside European Ryder Cup star and defending champion Ian Poulter and Australia's world No.5
A birdie on the first boosted his confidence from the outset and although Hendry bogeyed the fourth after striking sand trouble off the tee, the right hander from Gulf Harbour dismissed the setback to produce reel off four more birdies, for six in total.
"I hit a lot of greens and put myself in position off the tee which is probably the key around here. I wasn't making it tough on myself to make par," said Hendry, who has also tackled the course when attempting to qualify for the British Open.
Although pleased with his putting - the highlight was draining a 10-footer on the eighth green - Hendry said his conservative approach was vital.
"My course management got me round. I had a lot of really solid shots. I was taking clubs off the tee that weren't going to get me a long way down there, but they were always going to be pretty risk-free."
Hendry has banked $164,233 from five tour events to comfortably top the order of merit from compatriot Mark Brown ($56,537) but with the Australian Open and Australian PGA both work $1.25 million and the New Zealand Open $400,000 he could still be caught - and miss the reward of valuable tournament exemptions.
Adding to the pressure is Hendry's bid to qualify for the lucrative Japanese tour for the first time. He has survived Q-school so far but the final tournament five days after the NZ Open at Clearwater means he would only return to Sydney for the Australian Open hours before tee off at the Lakes Golf Club.
"It's going to be pretty hard out for the next couple of weeks," said Hendry, who admitted the Australian Open may have to be sacrificed.
Mahal Pearce was the next best of the 15-strong Kiwi contingent with a 3-under 69.
Jared Pender was a shot further back in a tie for 14th, left hander Gareth Paddison was 1-under while Brown, Nick Gillespie, Brad Shilton and Doug Holloway were in a cluster of golfers on even par.
Ryan Fox, Pieter Zwart, Michael Long (73s) and Ben Campbell (74) are still capable of making the cut though Hamish Robertson (76), Kevin Smith (78) and Sven Puymbroeck (79) are destined to have the weekend off.
- Fairfax Media
If she is able to, when do you expect Lydia Ko to win her first major?Related story: (See story)