Mark Brown dominant at NZ Open

ON FIRE: Mark Brown at the New Zealand Open today.
ON FIRE: Mark Brown at the New Zealand Open today.

It was the Mark Brown show on moving day at the New Zealand Open in Christchurch today.

The co-favourite heading into the tournament has struck the ball well all week at the Clearwater Golf Club but his scoring hadn't shown it, until today's third round that is.

And, boy, did he score.

The former European Tour player caught fire on the front nine and nursed his way through the tougher back nine to post the round of the tournament, a six-under par 66, to move from a share of 17th at the start of the day into a three-shot lead heading into tomorrow's final round.

The 37-year-old from Wellington was going blow-for-blow with North Harbour professional Michael Hendry for most of the day but a back-nine fade from the latter - he had got to six-under through 10 holes but ended with a two-under 70 - meant it was Brown's day at Clearwater. 

He heads into the final round at five-under, three shots ahead of Australian Peter Wilson, who signed for a 70 to move to three-under par alongside Australian amateur Jake Higginbottom, who had an even-par 70 today.

Their compatriots Steven Jeffress (72), Peter O'Malley (68) and Craig Hancock (72) join Hendry in a share of fourth at one-under.

It looked as though Wellington's Peter Spearman-Burn would be the closest Kiwi to Brown but he double bogeyed the 18th hole after finding the drink and dropped back to even-par for the day and tournament, in a share of eighth alongside fellow Kiwi Richard Lee (70).

But it is quite clearly Brown who is New Zealand's best bet at breaking a title drought dating back to Mahal Pearce's win at Middlemore in 2003.

"I'm pretty excited," Brown said. "It started off nice and calm but the wind got up a bit on the back side so I'm happy with a 66.

"I'm playing well enough. A lot goes into winning a tournament, and that includes handling the pressure tomorrow, but my game is feeling pretty good and hopefully we can hold it together for another day."

Along with Hendry, Brown quickly put the rest of the field on notice in gorgeous conditions earlier today.

Hendry, playing in the group ahead of Brown, eagled the par-five second, birdied the par-four third and par-five fifth, then notched another birdie at the par-four eighth to made the turn in five-under 31. 

The North Harbour professional birdied the par-five 10th to get to six-under for the day, and in solo possession of the lead at five-under for the tournament.

But despite his blistering early scoring, Hendry just could not shake Brown off.

The Wellington pro had plotted his way around Clearwater without a lot of luck during the first two rounds but the way he had been hitting the ball, a low score always looked on the cards. It came today.

He birdied holes No 1, 2, 4,and 5 and stuffed his approach to about two feet at the tricky par-four eighth to also turn in five-under 31.

Like Hendry, he also birdied the 10th to keep pace and he took the lead on his own when Hendry made his first blemish of the day with a bogey at the par-three 11th.

It got worse for Hendry - he hooked his second shot from the fairway bunker into the water at the par-four 13th and made double and also doubled the par-three 16th after birdies at No 14 and No 15. He eventually ended the day at one-under, tied for fourth and four shots behind.

Brown, meanwhile, got to seven-under with a birdie at No 14 but his lead was cut to three shots when he bogeyed the par-four 17th. It was his only blemish, to go alongside his seven birdies.

Only Australian Jason Norris, out early and having completed his round before a breath of wind arrived, could matrch Brown's 66 as he moved to a share of ninth at even-par.

Aussies Martin Dive, Aaron Pike and Peter Cooke had five-under 67s on what was easily the best scoring day of the opening three rounds.