Kiwi Richard Lee ties for the lead at NZ Open

Last updated 19:53 28/02/2014
IN SWING: Richard Lee takes a swing during the New Zealand Golf Open Championship at The Hills in Arrowtown.

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Hopes for a Kiwi breakthrough at the New Zealand Open have risen.

Auckland professional Richard Lee braved the bitterly cold conditions at The Hills in Arrowtown today to jointly claim the lead at the halfway stage of the New Zealand Open, and there is a handful of his compatriots within touching distance.

The 40-year-old carded an impressive bogey-free, five-under par 67 to get to a nine-under par total, where he was joined late in the day by Australian Adam Blyth.

Blyth posted the round of the day with a stunning seven-under 67 at Millbrook Resort, carding nine birdies and two bogeys and putting the lights out with an incredible tally of just 19 putts for the round.

Among his highlights was a birdie at the 570m par-five 15th, and that after putting his second shot into the water. He holed his fourth from 70m.

Hamilton pro Mathew Perry (69) and Australian Dimitrios Papadatos (69) are tied for third at seven-under par, two shots back in the $850,000 PGA Tour of Australasia event.

West Australian Matt Jager (69), who won the NZ Amateur in 2009 and 2010, is tied for fifth at six-under, alongside fellow Aussie Bryden Macpherson.

Among the players four back at five-under, in a tie for seventh, are Kiwi pros Mark Brown (72 at The Hills today), Ryan Fox (69 at Millbrook Resort) and Te Anau’s David Klein (70 at The Hills).

But the biggest talking point on day one was the brutal weather.

Ice-cold southwesterly winds swept over the courses and the sight of fresh snow on The Remarkables, and the single-figure temperatures, confirmed the swift seasonal change.

Lee, playing alongside Phil Keoghan (the host of The Amazing Race), said consistent play and taking his chances for birdie was the key to impressive round.

“I’m very happy, especially with the inclement weather coming in,” said Lee.

Lee, who earned his place in the field through finishing inside the top-10 on the NZ PGA Order of Merit, feels like he has unfinished business with the national open.

The man with a million nicknames was the second best Kiwi at Clearwater, behind Mark Brown, when he carded a 69 in the final round to finish fifth, four shots back from Australian Jake Higginbottom.

“For any Kiwi, you’d love to win the New Zealand Open,” he said.

“I was really disappointed [at the last NZ Open]. I finished fifth and I hit it in 10 water hazards, so there’s 10 penalty shots that killed me. I’d love to win it. It would be the best thing.”

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Lee, who is in the process of completing the Bridging Programme with the PGA of New Zealand to be a teaching pro, stopped short of saying winning the NZ Open would be life changing.

Also making a name for himself was rookie professional Perry.

The 27-year-old, who was one of three tournament invites to the event, couldn’t remember playing in conditions that demanding in Arrowtown.

“Teeing off one, we got the first 10 holes out of the way and then the back nine’s tough and the wind picked up and when that rain came in it was something else.’’

Perry is based in Melbourne and said a good finish in a tier one PGA Tour of Australasia event would mean a lot for his career going forward.

There was plenty of action around the cutline late this afternoon.

It fluctuated between even-par and +1 and eventually settled at +1, meaning New Zealand No 1 Mike Hendry (73) just snuck into the weekend.

The top 60 players and ties made the cut at +1 was good enough for a share of 59th. 71 players made the cut.

American professional Rocco Mediate, playing Hendry at The Hills today, just needed to par the 18th to make the cut but he double-bogeyed the par-four and ended at three-over par.

Notables to make the cut include Gareth Paddison (-3), David Smail (-1) and Peter O’Malley (even) while among those to miss the weekend action are Josh Geary (+2 after a 76 today) and Greg Turner (+4).

Leading amateur honours, and the Bledisloe Cup, were shared by Southland’s Vaughan McCall and Canterbury’s Jordan Bakermans at five-over. No amateur made the cut.

McCall had a shocking eight-over 80 today to drop from three-under. He turned in 10-over 46 but salvaged four birdies to go with two further bogeys on his back nine.

And spare a thought for NZ amateur rep Kadin Neho. He finished the two rounds with a whopping 37-over par tally, 22 shots worse than second-to-last.

Neho had a soul-destroying 25-over 97 at The Hills today with three triple bogeys, five double bogeys, seven bogeys, two pars and a lone birdie. 

- Fairfax Media

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