Putting tip boosts Brown at NZ Open

GREAT FORM: Mark Brown is on the verge of being the first local winner of the NZ Open since 2003.
GREAT FORM: Mark Brown is on the verge of being the first local winner of the NZ Open since 2003.

A putting tip from a couple of mates who were watching on television was the catalyst for a sizzling six-under par 66 that has Mark Brown on the verge of being the first local winner of the New Zealand Open since 2003.

But first, the affable Wellingtonian will have to fend off the inevitable charge from the Australian raiders, with two players from the across the ditch his nearest challengers and a certain Peter O'Malley, the 1995 champion, also lurking ominously, not to mention seething Kiwi Michael Hendry.

Brown made his move in benign early conditions during yesterday's third round at Christchurch's Clearwater Golf Club, catching fire with five birdies on the front nine, before nursing his way through the back nine when the wind got up, with a further two birdies and a lone bogey.

The round of the tournament catapulted the 37-year-old from a share of 17th at the start of moving day, into a three-shot lead heading into today's final round.

The pre-tournament co-favourite, who was third at the Australian Masters last week, and lies third on the Australasian tour order of merit this year, has been swinging it nicely all week - and all year for that matter after rekindling his relationship with coach Mal Tongue - but didn't score well during the first two rounds.

He revealed a tip on Friday night had played a significant part in his birdie barrage yesterday.

"I tried to make two changes - one was to stay a bit more patient, the other was with my putting," Brown said last night. "A couple of friends picked up one thing last night on telly. It was to keep a bit stiller over the ball.

"I have a tendency to look up at times and when it's windy it makes it worse. I knew I was hitting the ball well, it was just a matter to hole some putts when I needed and today, for the most part, I putted beautifully." At five-under par, Brown has a three-shot lead over Australian Peter Wilson and compatriot amateur Jake Higginbottom.

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

Hendry and Brown were going blow-for-blow early - Hendry was also six-under through 10 holes and shared the lead with Brown at that point - but double bogeys after finding the water at the 13th and 16th holes stymied his charge. The latter particularly frustrated, given he felt he hit the perfect shot at the par-three, but the wind picked it up and he found the water.

Brown's last international win was his biggest, at the European Tour's Johnnie Walker Classic in India in 2008, and he was "pretty excited" about having a chance to break a New Zealand title drought at the national open, dating back to Mahal Pearce's win at Middlemore in 2003.

"Being a Kiwi you want to play well at home so I'm sure that'll be part of it [today], but there's pressure every week on tour.

"As long as my game can hold up and I hit the shots I need to hit I'll be in with a chance. It'll just be a matter of being mentally strong." The $100,000 winner's cheque would take Brown to within touching distance of Hendry at the top of the Australasian tour order of merit, but he said that was secondary to achieving every New Zealand golfer's dream, irrespective of the strength of the field this week.

"There's a lot of things at the end of this year in terms of money lists in Australia but I think overriding that is the chance to have your name on the New Zealand Open trophy. It'd mean everything to me.

"A lot goes into winning a tournament . . . but my game is feeling pretty good and hopefully we can hold it together for another day." If the wind gets up today, Brown felt his game was in good enough shape to cope. "I don't think anyone enjoys it but I've probably got just as much experience in it as anyone, especially growing up in Wellington. My ball flight is pretty low. It's never fun, especially around a course like Clearwater where there's trouble lurking and loads of water."