Hancock tames windy conditions to lead NZ Open
Perhaps not surprisingly, Australian Craig Hancock has rave reviews of the Clearwater course after firing a four-under par 68 in tough conditions to take the first round lead at the New Zealand Open in Christchurch today.
Hancock made the most of calmer conditions early this morning to get to five-under through 12 holes and held on well when the wind came up, with just a solitary bogey, at the par-four 13th, to take a two-shot lead into tomorrow's second round.
New Zealand's Ryan Fox, who was also five-under through 11 holes, is in a share of second with Australian Kristopher Mueck after a two-under par 70. He is the leading Kiwi.
The winds were strong in the afternoon with the downwind par-five second the only hole averaging under-par on a day where the average overall score was five-over 77.
The only player to break par in the treacherous afternoon conditions was little known Queenslander Heath Reed, who produced perhaps the round of the day with a one-under 71 to share fourth.
He will be hoping for calm winds tomorrow morning to take advantage.
This is Hancock's first visit to Clearwater and naturally the 28-year-old, who plies his trade on the OneAsia tour, was complimentary of the course after his round, and even said he liked the weather.
"It's spot on, there's nothing bad about the golf course. The greens are perfect, the rough, everything is perfect," he said.
"It's just perfect the golf course, it really is. I struggled a bit early but with the wind towards the end, I'm used to it in Tassie so it wasn't all bad for me. It was nice to put a score on the board."
Hancock said the key to playing well in the wind was concentration.
"You probably play a bit better in the breeze because you're not so relaxed. The first few holes there was no wind and I was (thinking) hit it anywhere and you'll be fine. But you have to really knuckle down when the wind gets up otherwise it'll bite you in the bum."
His goal today had been even-par.
"I would have taken probably four even-pars or four one-unders (across the four rounds). It's a pretty tough golf course, the rough is pretty thick. Four-under is really good. Anything could happen tomorrow. You've got to just try and keep the bogeys off the card, get it to the big part of the greens, two-putt and try not to do too much."
Hancock, who finished tied for 14th at the Australian Masters last week, said the Kiwis would bounce back tomorrow.
Fox is the best of them after the first day, with lefty Gareth Paddison, Brad Shilton and amateur Vaughan McCall all tied for fourth at one-under after 71s.
Mark Brown, Mahal Pearce and Mathew Perry are all a further shot back at even par, tied for 13th.
Fox claimed the lead at five-under when he notched his sixth birdie of the day at the par-four first, his 10th hole, but double bogeyed the third when he lost his tee shot right into the bushes and picked up another bogey three holes later.
He did well to par his way home, with sand saves at the tough eighth and ninth holes, which averaged more than half a shot over par.
"I'm very happy, it was pretty tough out there the last 12 holes and No 7, 8 and 9 played really tough into the wind," Fox said.
"I got pretty lucky on No 8 that Ben (Campbell) left his ball there and I hit it. The one on No 9 is not a very fun shot hitting at the water but I judged it nicely and finished it off with a pretty good putt."
New Zealand's No 1 amateur McCall is nicely positioned and on the back of good form is confident heading into tomorrow.
"It will depend on conditions, but I just want to keep myself in contention to shoot a low round and get on that leaderboard as well.
"I think I'm capable of winning, but I've put my sights on getting myself into contention and giving myself a chance to win because of the experience I'll get out of that. The top 10 and the low amateur will take care of itself."