As the field begins to trickle into the Clearwater Golf Club for this week's New Zealand Open, there's a feeling that this could be the year a Kiwi breaks the title drought.
And the bookmakers agree, with Michael Hendry and Mark Brown today installed as joint favourites alongside little known Australian Nick Cullen to claim the 94th New Zealand Open title here in Christchurch.
Hendry and Brown, first and third respectively on the PGA Tour of Australasia's 2012 order of merit, are both coming off top-10s at the Australian Masters at Kingston Heath, continuing a good patch of form for both players.
Hendry's moved up to 350 in the latest world rankings, which makes him the highest-ranked player in the field this week, while Cullen is the next highest at 383 and Brown is third, at 444.
The trio are relatively short-priced favourites with the TAB at $9 for the win, with Wellington lefthander Gareth Paddison, who shot a final round 68 to share third with Brown at the Masters last week on the next line at $17.
Rookie pro Ryan Fox, who is 14th on the order of merit, is at $30 alongside highly rated Aussie amateur Jake Higginbottom, who was leading amateur in finishing 21st last year, and his veteran compatriot, Peter O'Malley.
US-based Kiwi Josh Geary, who was third last year, provides some value at $50.
Brown, the only player in the field who has won the Australian order of merit (in 2008), appeared relaxed about the prospect of early favouritism when he was the first player to front the media this afternoon.
"I don't mind," he said. "A lot of things have to go right to win a golf tournament; you need a bit of luck and you need to putt well, so like every week it's just a matter of putting yourself in with a chance on Sunday. That's what I love about playing, being in with a shot. I certainly enjoyed it on Sunday at the Aussie Masters."
Mahal Pearce, the last New Zealander to win the title, at Middlemore in 2003, believes this will be the year a New Zealander breaks the drought, and Brown reckoned a form of the Kiwis at Kingston Heath - Hendry was sixth and Ryan Fox 14th - was big for confidence heading into the Open.
"I think it was crucial that a few of us played decently last week and come here genuine contenders," the Wellingtonian said.
"For guys like Mike Hendry, he was always going to be up there, but a few of us showing some form will give us a chance. It would be great to have a Kiwi win it, wouldn't it? But it's just a numbers game.
"We need more guys like Foxy on tour and a group of 20 or 25 of us contending every week and then you really increase your chances, because it's not easy, winning."
Brown has had a quieter schedule in 2012 after playing close to 100 tournaments on the European Tour from 2009-11 before losing his card.
As well as featuring prominently in Australasia, he's ninth on the OneAsia order of merit and has won recently, at the Tauranga Open on the Charles Tour.
- Fairfax Media
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