Kiwi pride on the line at New Zealand Open

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 22/11/2012
Kiwi golfers
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ

New Zealand Open contenders, from left, are Josh Geary, Michael Hendry, Ryan Fox, Mark Brown and Mahal Pearce.

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There's a feeling of now or never for the Kiwis in the New Zealand Open starting today.

Their eyes roll back slightly whenever a question about the ever-growing drought is asked - nine years is a long time between drinks.

It's a source of motivation, but also embarrassment, for the more experienced of the 51 Kiwis in the field at Clearwater Golf Club.

This is meant to be their tournament, the one they come home for.

But for nine years the Brodie Breeze Trophy has been won by a foreigner.

The feeling around Clearwater this week is one of Kiwi confidence and more so than ever before.

Michael Hendry and Mark Brown are joint favourites along with South Australian Nick Cullen, and there are a number of Kiwis in form.

Hendry, Brown and Gareth Paddison all finished in the top 10 at the Australian Masters in Melbourne last weekend against a much tougher field, and all are possible drought-breakers this week.

Mahal Pearce, the last Kiwi to win the open, is a chance too, as are rookie pro Ryan Fox, winner of three events this year, and Josh Geary, the top Kiwi at the last four New Zealand Opens.

Whoever it is, there's a growing expectation that this year is the year.

"I think probably this year more than others is a big chance of it," Hendry said.

"There's obviously a large Kiwi field this week, so the percentage is there already but I think there's so many of us playing well at the moment.

"I think there'll be several Kiwis there on Sunday."

He said to win your own national open was a huge deal to the Kiwis but to be the man who ended the drought also appealed.

"We all want it as much as each other [but] no-one's going to give us the event just because we're New Zealanders; we have to go out there and take it.

"It's an individual pride, an ego thing.

"We might want it a little bit more than an Aussie potentially because we do have that little bit of patriotism on our side."

Hendry's big shoulders are having more expectations placed on them each day.

Every Australian spoken to by The Press named him as the man to beat, though Hendry flicks that title on to Brown. Fox also keeps coming up while Geary and Paddison have slipped under the radar.

Hendry's putter got hot last weekend in Melbourne and if that happens again, he'll be tough to beat here.

And he likes the greens at Clearwater.

"They're the best I've putted on in New Zealand.

"They could compete in anywhere else in world as a surface," Hendry said.

"If you can putt well and get off to a decent start in the event, you can hold on if the weather turns to custard."

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