Favourite Scott Hend expecting tough NZ Open
He's comfortably the top ranked player in the field, but Australian Scott Hend expects plenty of competition at this week's New Zealand Open, which starts tomorrow.
Hend, the world No 125, goes into the $900,000 event with a target on his back, ranked 89 positions higher than the next best player in the field, Kiwi No 1 Michael Hendry.
Hend hasn't spent a lot of time on the golf course lately and he expected plenty of players to challenge him, especially the Kiwis.
He was also surprised to hear how low the top New Zealanders were ranked.
"The rankings aren't something you look at every week, but I thought they were lower than I was," he said.
The tournament is played on Arrowtown's The Hills and Millbrook Resort courses, but Hend admitted The Hills didn't set up well for him and his big-hitting ways.
"This golf course does my head in a little bit," he said.
"I find a lot of the tee shots a little difficult for the way I hit the ball. Where I want to drive it to, it tucks in tight and there's long grass on the left and tussock on the right. In two holes today I lost two balls and found two balls; you've got to think your way round the golf course."
The Hills course – where those that make the cut will play three of their four rounds – will suit clever golfers rather than powerful ones.
It's not a long course by any stretch and experience will be crucial.
Playing on two different courses on consecutive days isn't easy either and getting used to the slight variations in the two is compounded by the fact that Millbrook has a new nine which is also slightly different to the older nine.
Hend might be happy to talk down his chances, but his sort of experience should make him a favourite.
Hendry will be another – he's won the New Zealand PGA Championship twice at The Hills in 2012 and 2013 – and is as desperate as any of the New Zealanders to break the 11-year drought for Kiwi winners.
Mark Brown is another to look out for and he's spent time at the courses preparing, opting to miss the last PGA Tour of Australasia tournament so he could practice more in Arrowtown.
Gareth Paddison and Ryan Fox have both been in form in Australia too while plenty of handy Australians – and a handful of Japanese players – would love nothing more than to upset the Kiwi fans and extend the drought for locals which dates back to Mahal Pearce's win in 2003.
Because the pro-am is being run concurrently, both The Hills and Millbrook will be used tomorrow and Friday before the cut is made.
The final two rounds on Saturday and Sunday will be played at The Hills.
There is an $850,000 prize purse for the NZ Open and a further $50,000 for the pro-am championship, which includes celebrities such as cricket and rugby greats Ricky Ponting, Allan Border, Jeff Wilson, Andrew Mehrtens and Nick Farr-Jones, as well TV personalities including The Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan and celebrity chef Josh Emett.
2014 NEW ZEALAND OPEN
The venues: The Hills and Millbrook Resort, Arrowtown
The purse: $850,000 (open) + $50,000 (pro-am)
The winning share: $153,000 (open) and $10,000 (pro-am)
The field: 132
The tour: PGA Tour of Australasia
The courses: The first two rounds played alternately at The Hills and Millbrook before the second round cut of 60 + ties, with the final two rounds at The Hills.
The pro-am: The NZ Pro-Am Championship to run concurrently to the main tournament. 132 amateurs partner with a pro and play in a best-ball format. The top 35 pro-am teams will progress to the third round at The Hills and the top 10 pro-am teams will progress to play in the final round.
THE TOP PLAYERS
Top 10-ranked players, based on the world rankings:-
Scott Hend (Aust) 128, Mike Hendry (NZ) 217, Toshinori Muto (Japan) 258, Scott Strange (Aust) 265, Yuki Kono (Japan) 279, Nick Cullen (Aust) 281, Matthew Griffin (Aust) 289, Mark Brown (NZ) 297, Gareth Paddison (NZ) 322, Jack Wilson (Aust) 389.
Ricky Ponting, Allan Border, Stephen Fleming, Wendall Sailor, Jeff Wilson, Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall, Andy Haden, John Hart, Nick Farr-Jones, Julie Coney, Phil Keoghan, Josh Emett, Cris Judd.
2012 – Jake Higginbottom (Australia, am) at Clearwater, Christchurch
2011 – Brad Kennedy (Australia) at Clearwater, Christchurch
2010 – Bobby Gates (USA) at The Hills, Arrowtown
2009 – Alex Prugh (USA) at The Hills, Arrowtown
2007 – Richard Finish (England) at The Hills, Arrowtown