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New Zealand Open: Aussies light up Millbrook in round one

February 28, 2014 Golf Tourism No Comments Email Email

Four Australian professionals set the early pace today in the New Zealand Open Championship in Queenstown.

The New Zealand Open Championship - Round 1, 27 February 2014Andrew Dodt (QLD), Terry Pilkadaris (VIC) and Jake Stirling (VIC) all fired rounds of six-under par 66 in the cool morning conditions at the Millbrook Resort and they were joined by Scott Strange (WA) who shot the best of the afternoon rounds.

The Australian quartet holds a one shot advantage over Mark Brown (NZ), Li Hao Tong (China), Andrew Martin, David Bransdon and Ashley Hall (all Australia) who signed for rounds to 67 to be in a share of fifth place.

All of the hot scoring came from the Millbrook Resort with Martin, who finished in a share of second at the 2012 NZ PGA, the only professional in the top nine scores posted today coming from The Hills.

Tournament draw card American professional Rocco Mediate and Michael Hendry, who is looking to win in Queenstown for the third year in a row, opened with rounds of even par 72 to be in a share of 61st place.

Queensland professional Dodt, who finished runner-up at The Hills the last time Queenstown staged the NZ Open in 2010, only missed one green in regulation all day as he carded six birdies.

The PGA Tour of Australasia pro, who was a tournament invite to the event, said his game has been improving since some recent hard work with his coach, PGA professional Jim Barden.

“At the end of last year, my coach and I found a few things,” said Dodt.

“I went back to basics, pulled everything apart and I feel pretty good. Everything’s pretty solid.”

Dodt had his father-in-law [Brett Odgers] caddy for him four years ago at The Hills and he’s caddying for him again this week.

“Maybe there is a lucky charm there,” Dodt said with a smile.

He rated his shot of the day as his tee shot to the second hole when he ran hot in the freezing cold conditions. The Aussie hit a four iron to the 220m uphill par three to about eight feet and made the birdie putt.

Dodt said it was hugely important to have a good round in the bag today especially with the inclement weather forecast forearly in the second round.

“You feel like you’re in front of the field a bit. If the weather is pretty ordinary [in round two], a good round today makes up for that.”

He was looking forward to returning to The Hills in round two where in 2010 he came close to forcing a playoff with American Bobby Gates in the NZ Open.

“I’m looking forward to getting out on The Hills. There’s a lot of good memories there.”

West Australian pro Strange also got off to the ideal start at The Millbrook Resort.

The runner-up in the 2013 NZ PGA Championship had a bogey free round and explained why the scores were so much betteron his side of the draw.

“There are a few par fives that guys will get home on, a few short par fours,” said the 36-year-old of the Millbrook Resort layout.

“The back nine is a bit different but they are playing a few holes up which makes them shorter. It definitely feels like you can score there, the greens are a bit flatter. At The Hills you will have tough putts but at Millbrook you might have a 30 – 40 footer that is quite flat.”

Strange, who has won twice on the European Tour during a successful career, said he felt like he was cruising in the opening round.

“Hitting the ball nice when it’s windy is always helpful,” he said.  “You’re not chasing anything just hitting greens and putting. I was pretty relaxed today.”

Strange, who in his prime was a top 100 player in the world, believed it was important to have a low number in the fine conditions.

“Obviously sitting on top of the leaderboard is a nice place to be,” he said.

“Especially when there is weather coming tomorrow, to have a few shots to play with tomorrow, I’m happy with that.”

He believed the highlight of his round wasn’t any one of the six birdies but rather a great par save on the fourth hole (his 13th).

“I hit it deep in the rough, chipped out and got up and down from about 130m and that sort of kept my game going. From there played tee to green and holed some putts,” added Strange.

Wellington pro Brown, who finished second at the NZ PGA in 2012, also holed some putts.

The former European Tour winner was rewarded for his diligent preparation to the event when he carded a bogey free 67 at Millbrook that saw him as the leading Kiwi.

“I probably spent more time on that course because I haven’t played it much,” said the 38-year-old who is now based in Tauranga.

Brown said at the start of the week, with Millbrook hosting the NZ Open for the first time, that his round there would be his most important.

“I spent a lot of time over there just because the two nines are so different, with the hardness of the greens and even the way the fairways are running, so it was important to spend time over there and this afternoon I will spend time on the greens here[at The Hills].”

New Plymouth pro Dominic Barson had a memorable opening round four-under par 68 that included a hole out for eagle on the par four eighth which is 460m.

Barson, who was the joint second-best Kiwi alongside Auckland professional Richard Lee and Waikato pro Mathew Perry, holed a nine iron from 154m.

Meanwhile Western Australian pro Brody Ninyette and Sam Hamilton, who played at The Hills, lead the NZ Pro-Am Championship by three shots on a 13-under par total.

The New Zealand Open Championship continues tomorrow at The Hills and Millbrook Resort.

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