Mark Brown is leading the local charge after the opening round of the New Zealand Open in Arrowtown today.
The Wellington pro is tied for fifth after shooting a bogey-free five-under par 67 at Millbrook Resort.
He's one shot behind a group of four Australians - Scott Strange, Andrew Dodt, Terry Pilkadaris and Jake Stirling - who all had six-under par 66s at Millbrook.
Interestingly, seven of the eight players within a shot of the lead played at Millbrook today, with The Hills proving the tougher of the two courses.
In good news for the local fans this afternoon, three other Kiwis - Richard Lee, Dominic Barson and Mathew Perry - have snuck up the leaderboard to four-under after rounds of 68 and are tied for 10th.
A shot further back in a tie for 17th after 69s are Southland amateur Vaughan McCall, Kiwi pros Nick Gillespie and David Klein, and the top-ranked player in the field, Aussie Scott Hend.
Ryan Fox, Gareth Paddison and the early leader this morning, Josh Geary, are all at two-under and in touch with the leaders.
Tournament favourite Mike Hendry and American headline act Rocco Mediate struggled to make headway at Millbrook this morning and shot even-par 72s to be tied for 61st.
Brown was happy with his start, characterised by typically sound ball-striking, some good up-and-downs and clutch putts.
"It was cold this morning, tough to make a couple of swings for the first few holes, it was actually quite hard to move. I didn't warm up for a while, but once we got past that turned into a beautiful day," said Brown, who led the last NZ Open, in Christchurch 15 months ago, after three rounds but couldn't pull off the win.
"I hit a couple of rough shots and got up and down to save those to make par, and took advantage of a couple of birdie putts which was a nice way to finish.
"It was just one of those rounds where I've been really good tee to green. Today I was actually a bit looser than what I am normally. I had a couple of really poor shots, a bit up and down, had a couple of putts, kind of shifted my mentality to 'I'm actually playing quite good here' and that gave me that confidence on the greens."
The $900,000 PGA Tour of Australasia event continues tomorrow with the second of four rounds.
The last New Zealander to win the national open was Mahal Pearce in 2003.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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