A swag of Australian players are lining up to win back the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open title with Terry Pilkadaris leading the tournament into the weekend.
New Zealander Michael Hendry’s win last year broke a run of five straight victories by players from across the ditch, but a new course record by New South Welshman Callan O’Reilly provided the individual highlight as several Aussies put themselves into contention today to take the silverware back across the Tasman in the co-sanctioned Asian Tour event.
Victorian Pilkadaris shot to the front with two birdies in his closing three holes at The Hills, near Queenstown, another quality finish after he closed his opening round at Millbrook Resort with five straight birdies on Thursday.
“I didn’t really get into too much trouble. A bogey on 12 was my only blemish, but that was only my third hole,” said Pilkadaris.
“It was a little bit of everything, but I didn’t get in too much trouble and when I did miss a green I chipped it in.”
Pilkadaris has played on the Asian Tour since 2002, the most recent of his three wins on that tour coming at the Brunei Open a frustrating 13 years ago.
“It does because I have had something like six runner-up finishes, that’s the frustrating thing since my last victory. To win a golf tournament you have to have a little bit of luck and sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t.”
The lack of wind meant Pilkadaris was unable to draw on the experience of master yachtsman Sir Russell Coutts, who was part of the playing group in the pro-am format.
“I was going to ask him a couple of things, but there was no breeze to really factor in today.”
Novocastrian O’Reilly, who sits a shot back on 14 under alongside Queensland's Daniel Nisbet, had the sort of day most golfers only dream about.
Starting the day at three under, he made the turn with in three-under 33, but then lit up the back nine with birdie on every hole bar the 15th for an inward 28 and a course record for The Hills of 11-under 61.
“It is one of those things golf – it is not the most sane game you ever played,” O’Reilly said of his personal best score.
“I played good golf, gave myself opportunities and made them. It is all you can do.
“I have been playing good. I did a little bit of work on Tuesday trying to fix the driver a little bit but it was outstanding today.”
Golf Australia rookie squad member Travis Smyth is a shot further back at 13 under, with fellow New South Welshmen Harrison Endycott and Jamie Arnold joining New Zealand’s Harry Bateman and Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino at 12 under.
It was a forgettable day for some high-profile Kiwis, with defending champion Hendry (-4) and New Zealand No.1 Ryan Fox (-6) both missing the cut that was made at an astonishing seven under — the lowest in Asian Tour history.