Fox leads NZ Open, but hounds on his tail

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012
Jake Higginbottom
GETTY IMAGES
CLEAR AS MUD: Jake Higginbottom, left, of Australia, looks for his ball in a water hazard at the 18th hole at Clearwater Golf Course in Christchurch yesterday. To his right is Kiwi golfer Michael Hendry.

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West Australian Daniel Fox was buzzing with all the attention after jumping to the lead of the New Zealand Open.

The surprise second-round leader holed out for eagle on the 18th at Clearwater yesterday to leapfrog a pair of countrymen for the outright lead at three under par.

Fox missed the fairway left on 18 with his tee shot, flirting with the water but his 131m nine-iron more than made up for it.

"I got real lucky," he said at what he revealed was his first press conference.

"I hit a good shot but for it to go in was ridiculous.

"I was just happy to get it over the bunker and to have a shot at birdie, but when it went in I was very lucky."

It capped off a great finish for Fox who birdied the 164m par-three 16th after knocking his tee shot close.

That allowed Fox to sign for a three under 69.

But he knew a maiden tier one title was still a long way off.

"It sounds all well and good [to have his name on top of the leaderboard] but we're halfway through the tournament.

"It's nice to be up in front - that's the best place to be - but you can't pray for rain for two days to wash it out so I'm going to have to go out and play."

Fox is one clear of highly-ranked Australian amateur Jake Higginbottom and Queenslander Ryan Haller.

Next at one-under are a group of seven including three Kiwis. Another Fox, Ryan, is in that group as are Wellington left-hander Gareth Paddison and Waikato's Mathew Perry in his first professional tournament.

First round leader Craig Hancock is also at one-under and one of just 10 players under par.

Daniel Fox, 36, said this was the biggest tournament he had led after 36 holes.

But did not expect nerves to play a big part this weekend as the difficulty of the Clearwater course would force him to concentrate on that rather than other golfers.

The course proved tougher than most expected in relatively benign conditions compared to Thursday's howling easterly.

The scoring average was lower yesterday, but no player got hot.

Difficult pin placements and tough to read greens were blamed by most for the mediocre scoring that has set the cut at a high plus seven.

"It's still a tough course, it's not easy," said Greg Turner, who surprised himself to be tied for 17th and just four back.

Higginbottom, the leading amateur at four Australasian Tour events in the last 13 months including last year's New Zealand Open, should have had at least a share of the lead. The 19-year-old New South Welshman hit his approach at 18 yesterday into the water and made just his second bogey of the day. Ryan Fox is just two off the lead but had he played the par-threes anywhere near how he would have liked then he, too, could have had his name on top.

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He bogeyed all four of the short holes and was lucky to only drop one shot at 16 after shanking his tee shot.

"It was quite strange, actually," he said of his round. "To be honest I played a majority of the par fours and par fives pretty well.

"I just played the par threes terribly. The rest of the round was reasonable."

- The Press

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