Live blog: New Zealand Open at Clearwater

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 18:24 22/11/2012
Ryan Fox
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
TOP TEN: His performance at the NSW PGA Championship has seen Ryan Fox crack the top ten of Australasia's order of merit.

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LATEST: 6:24 Queenslander Heath Reed is in at one-under, the only player who teed off this afternoon to post a sub-par round. He's tied for fourth, three shots behind Craig Hancock.A full wrap from the first round will follow on stuff.co.nz 

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5:47pm: Take a bow Heath Reed.

The little known Aussie has just eagled the par-five 14th to move to two-under par through 14 holes, two shots off Craig Hancock's lead.

Of the 72 players who teed off this afternoon, Reed is the only one currently under par with the wind continuing to batter the players. 

If you want to know how Brook Hale is going, he's now 18-over through 13 - faring a tad batter on his back nine it must be said.

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4:57pm: There are some big scores mounting up here at Clearwater.

At the top of the leaderboard there are only four players who teed off this afternoon - Clint Rice, Andrew Martin, Ryan Lynch and Heath Reed - under par.

They're one-under and looking in good shape given what is going on around them.

But at the other end there are some ugly scores as the winds wreak havoc.

Compton Pikari is +12 through 13 holes - he started with a nine at the par-five 10th - but fellow Kiwi amateur Brook Hale is faring even worse. He's got two eights and a seven on his card and has just turned in 15-over 51.

If the news can get any worse for Hale, he's playing the tougher front nine as we speak. 

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3:44pm: Interesting stats here - only the downwind par-five second hole is playing under-par today.

The other 17 holes are all averaging over-par and there have only been three birdies all day at the par-four eighth and the same number at the par-three ninth.

No 8 and No 18 are playing half a shot over par, on average.

Of the 72 afternoon starters, only four players are currently under par - Brent McCullough, Clint Rice (both -2) and Peter Cooke and Andrew Martin (-1).

I'd be prepared to wager that Craig Hancock's 68 won't be challenged today.

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2:44pm: A handful of afternoon players are in red figures as the wind continues to play a major role at Clearwater.

Aussies Clint Rice, Matthew Giles and Peter Cooke are all -2 on their front nines, with a handful of others at -1.

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2:31pm: McCall on his goals for tomorrow:

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"It will depend on conditions, but I just want to keep myself in contention to shoot a low round and get on that leaderboard as well. I think I’m capable of winning, but I’ve put my sights on getting myself into contention and giving myself a chance to win because of the experience I’ll get out of that. The top 10 and the low amateur will take care of itself."

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2:06pm: NZ's top amateur Vaughan McCall, who is tied for fifth at the moment after a one-under 71:

"I hit the ball really solid, which is just what you need to do out there in the wind. I'm happy with how I'm hitting it and I rolled the rock really well, too."

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1:59pm: Shilton closed with another bogey at the par-three ninth to sign for a one-under 71, three shots behind Aussie Craig Hancock, whose four-under 68 just looks better and better by the minute.

Ryan Fox is highly likely to be the leading Kiwi at the end of the day with his two-under 70 which has him tied for second right now.

Joining Shilton and Gareth Paddison at one-under is Southland's Vaughan McCall, New Zealand's top amateur.

McCall has just signed for a 71 to be in a log-jam at -1, playing the tough front nine (his back nine) bogey free with one birdie.

Back in the media tent now and the wind is certainly not letting up.

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1:19pm: Shilton has started the tough finishing stretch on the front nine with a bogey at No 7 to drop back to -2. Hancock's lead is now two shots.

Meanwhile, Gareth Paddison is in at -1, Mark Brown even-par and Peter O'Malley double bogeyed the last for a one-over 73.

In the group behind them, tournament favourite Michael Hendry started with a scratchy two-over 74 but he's still only six shots off the pace in a share of 66th, while Josh Geary's chances of finishing the top Kiwi for the fifth Open in succession look shot.

He played the front nine (his back) in 43 to sign for an eight-over 80.

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12:49pm: Australian Craig Hancock, the clubhouse leader at four-under, on his round of 68: "I struggled a little bit early, but fought the wind. We're sort of used to it back in Tassie, so it wasn't all bad for me, but a lot of the holes it's facing the water, and I don't like water too much... but it was nice to put a good score on the board."

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12:42pm: Ryan Fox on his two-under 70, which has him tied for third at this stage: "I'm very happy, it was pretty tough out there the last 12 holes and No 7, 8 and 9 played really tough into the wind."

On his double bogey at the third hole, when leading at -5: "I thought I had enough to carry the bush and get close enough to the green but I missed one and hit it into the cabbage trees somewhere and had to go back to the green."

On back-to-back sand saves at No 8 and 9 to finish at -2: "I got pretty lucky on No 8 that Ben (Campbell) left his ball there and I hit it. The one on No 9 is not a very fun shot hitting at the water but I judged it nicely and finished it off with a pretty good putt."

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12:38pm: Hold the phone. Daniel Fox has just made a double bogey at the long par-five fifth, which is 554m on the card but probably playing closer to 650m into a strong breeze. It's a brute of a hole and everyone will be happy with par there this afternoon.

So that leaves Hancock as the sole leader, and it's hard to see anyone bettering his 68 this afternoon.

Shilton is solo second at -3 with four holes to play, though six through nine is an incredibly tough finishing stretch with the last three of those holes into the wind.

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12:28pm: Australian Craig Hancock has the clubhouse lead after signing for a four-under par 68.

Compatriot Daniel Fox is also at -4, through 13 holes, while Kiwi Brad Shilton remains third at -3.

Ryan Fox and Kristopher Mueck had just finished with two-under 70s and share fourth with a group of players still on course.

Fox just said he was extremely happy with his round, despite being -5 through 11 holes.

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11:34am: Ok, it's getting rather tricky out here. The wind is up and most guys are going backwards. The leaders - Mueck and Hancock - are now at -4 through 14 and 15 respectively and they'll be in excellent shape at the end of the day if they stay there.

Fox has dropped back to -2 now after a bogey at the par-four sixth. Paddison and Peter Spearman-Burn are also at -2, with Shilton now the leading Kiwi at -3.

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10:57am: We still have two leaders at -5 but Ryan Fox is no longer one of them.

The Kiwi has run into strife at the par-four third, losing his tee shot into the bushes right and having to go back to the tee.

That resulted in a double bogey and he's back to -3. Hancock has joined Mueck at -5.

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10:44am: Kristopher Mueck from Victoria has joined Fox at five-under having birdied three of his first four holes at the start of the back nine.

Still trying to catch up to Fox - he would be at the furthest corner of the golf course.

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10:22am: Well, that was a great way to kill a couple of nice looking rounds.

Paddison and Brown both managed to double bogey the par-four 17th after having less than 100m in for their second shots from the fairway.

Brown found the deep pot bunker and hit his sand shot over the green, while Paddison went over the green with his second and took two shots to get back up.

Paddison drops to -1 and Brown even-par coming down the 18th.

In brighter news for the Kiwis, Fox has landed another birdie at the par-four first hole and moved to -5, two shots ahead of four players, including Cullen and Brad Shilton, who is making a move. He's -3 through seven.

As for Hendry, he's now +2 through seven while Geary nailed back-to-back birdies to drag himself back to even-par.

Think I might jump ahead here and follow our leader. Six birdies in 10 holes is some pretty good golf, though the wind is starting to get up now.

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9:56am: Ryan Fox is your NZ Open leader midway through his first round after making the turn in four-under 32.

The big hitting rookie Auckland pro birdied the 16th and 17th to lead by a shot from Hancock and Paddison, who tapped in for birdie at 16. And Fox bogeyed the short par-four 15th!

Brown is back to -2, after a bogey at 15 he hit his tee shot to two feet on the 164m par three 16th, just inside Paddison.

Southland amateur Vaughan McCall has made a nice start and is also -2 through seven holes.

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9:33am: The sun is out now and despite a little breeze the conditions are still great for scoring.

Can I just say the fairways look in magnificent nick and hacks like me are already looking forward to the Monday tournament. Hope they cut the rough Sunday night though.

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9:30am: Craig Hancock has joined Fox and Cullen at three-under after back-to-back birdies at six and seven.

Meanwhile, Brown has moved to -2 with a nice birdie at the par-five 14th after knocking a wedge from 75m to five feet.

Not good news for the other Kiwi co-favourite, Hendry, who bogeyed the 12th to drop to +1.

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9:11am: Paddison with a great up and down from a bad lie 60m out to save par at the 13th and remain in a share of third at -2. Brown also made par after finding the fairway and green side bunkers and thanked his caddie for a good read on the eight-foot putt.

It appears our two leaders, Fox and Cullen, both failed to take advantage of the strategic par-five 14th and remain at -3.

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8:53am: Ouch. After a great bunker shot at the par-three 11th Hendry had missed a 2.5-footer for par and is back to even.

Geary is having no early luck. After his opening double he has seen a six-footer for birdie on the same hole do a 360 and lip out.

Up ahead, Paddison has moved to two-under after a birdie at the short-ish par-four 12th and Brown also birdied to get into red figures.

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8:50am: Word coming through from up ahead is that Kiwi Ryan Fox and Aussie co-favourite Nick Cullen have both started with three successive birdies and are three-under through four holes.

With Fox's length and in benign conditions he could tear up the course this morning. An official on the 10th tee reckoned his drive at the opening hole was about 40m longer than anyone else who has come through so far today.

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8:41am: Michael Hendry is out of the blocks with a fine birdie at his first hole, the long par-five 10th. Two good blows left him 60m short and he knocked a wedge to eight feet before nailing the right-to-left downhill putt.

Playing partner Josh Geary made a dreadful start though. He was wayward off the tee and took two shots to get out of the green side bunker. The result? Double bogey seven.

Up ahead, Paddison, Brown and O'Malley all parred the medium sized par-three 11th.

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8:26am: The first if our big groups has played the par-five 10th hole safely, with lefty Gareth Paddison nailing a 15-footer for birdie and Mark Brown and Peter O'Malley in with pars.

Paddison putted the lights out in the final round at Kingston Heath on Sunday and perhaps rather ominously said yesterday that he loved the greens at Clearwater.

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Back by popular demand, stuff.co.nz is providing regular updates from the first two rounds of the New Zealand Open in Christchurch today and tomorrow, starting now!

So if you're at work and wanting to keep up with the play, or peeved that television coverage doesn't start till the weekend, you're in the right place.

We'll be following a couple of the marquee groupings this morning with Mark Brown paired alongside 1995 champion Peter O'Malley from Australia and fellow in-form Kiwi professional Gareth Paddison at 8am off the 10th tee.

Off the same tee 10 minutes later are New Zealand PGA Champion Michael Hendry, who is looking to become the first golfer to complete the NZ PGA-NZ Open double in the same year since Kel Nagle in 1958, Josh Geary, the leading Kiwi at the event for the past three years, and leading Aussie amateur Jake Higginbottom.

So if you can't be here, don't fear. We'll have regular updates through the morning and post-round reaction here on stuff.co.nz early this afternoon.

If you are planning to come out at some stage over the next four days, this morning might be the optimum time. Apologies if you're working.

There's not a breath of wind (which is hardly going to be the norm here at Clearwater), it's not too cold, and it's not too hot.

There's certainly plenty of space behind the ropes, too. You wouldn't expect the turnstiles to be ticking over early on the first morning but I can tell you having experienced the tactical dogfight that is trying to position yourself in a gallery for a big international golf event at last year's Presidents Cup in Melbourne, this morning will be relative bliss for the punters who make the effort.

There are high hopes for a Kiwi winner for the first time since Mahal Pearce's truimph at Middlemore in 2003.

Let's be honest, the field is not strong, but this is still a New Zealand Open and all the Kiwis spoken to this week are desperate to etch their name on the trophy.

Of course there are some pretty handy Aussies here this week, too, players we might not have heard of yet but are waiting to break through. They'll probably be thinking this week is as good as any to do that.

Either way, let's hope we see some low scoring this morning. The players won't get a better opportunity.

- Stuff

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