Date: March 12, 2009
Author: Dean Wedlake at The Hills, Sportal

Americans on top in NZ

Rounds of seven-under 65 on Thursday by a trio of Americans saw them share the lead after the opening day of the New Zealand Open in Queenstown. Josh Teater and Todd Demsey walked off The Hills course after noon with a share of the lead at seven-par and were expected to be able to sit back and relax while the later starters struggled to cope with a strengthening breeze. None of the afternoon players came close to threatening the lead until Prugh put together his amazing round. Despite a wind that reached howling proportions at times, Prugh fired a blistering five-under 31 on the back nine to compliment a 34 on the front. His 65 was worth even more than it appeared on the scorecard and he would be hoping Friday&aposs conditions mirror those of the previous day. Teater, who tied for seventh at last week&aposs NZ PGA Championship, continued his strong Australasian form as he completed his round atop the leaderboard although he was left to rue a double-bogey at the 18th that cost him sole possession of top spot. Instead he shares it with Demsey, who was bogey-free in his 65 four groups ahead of Teater. Teater fired nine birdies through 17 holes, including a run of four in a row from the 11th. He also birdied the 16th and 17th but a tee shot into the fairway bunker on 18, followed by another trip to the sand, saw him eventually scramble in for six. “The day was totally different to the first few days we were here. Yesterday morning at the Pro-Am I thought I played pretty well and shot close to even,” Teater said of a day where temperatures dropped to three degrees – the lowest March mark on record in Queenstown. “Today it felt like a different game – not really the wind to account for. “I was hitting pretty decent, pretty close, using the slopes on the greens to get close and then making some putts.” Demsey was a picture of steadiness in his round, shooting a four-under 32 on the front nine and complimenting it with 33 on the back. Australian Stephen Dartnall, one of three players who have held the world No.1 amateur spot in the field along with countryman Michael Sim and Kiwi Danny Lee, is two back of the front-runners at five-under along as he along with Americans Martin Piller and Korean Seung-su Han shot 67s. A huge group of 13 golfers are at four-under, including Aussie veteran Peter Senior and NZ PGA champion Steve Alker who both shot impressive 68s. Lee let himself down with three bogies in his final four holes to sign for a disappointing 71 after being in the top 10 at one stage. The 18-year-old is playing in his final tournament as an amateur in New Zealand and thrilled the galleries early on as he peeled off four birdies in a row from the 14th, including nearing holing a bunker shot for eagle at the &aposParty Hole&apos, the reachable par-four 15th. A birdie was to follow at the 235m par-three 4th to lift him further up the leaderboard but he misfired down the final stretch. Lee&aposs final flurry of bogies saw Wellington golfer Thomas Spearman-Burn finish as the leading amateur in carding a solid two-under 70. Lee is the holder of the Bledisloe Cup for the low amateur at the Open which he claimed when the event was last held in late 2007. The fairytale story of the last Open when he came the oldest to make a cut in a professional tournament aged 71, legendary New Zealand left-hander Sir Bob Charles, was one off shooting his age as he carded a one-over 73 in the morning. A pair of double bogies on the 6th and 14th didn&apost help his cause but they were interspersed with five birdies to keep his chances of making the cut alive. Charles, who turns 73 on Saturday, indicated on Wednesday that it would likely be his final New Zealand Open should he miss the cut. No matter what happens, he will take another record with him. He surpassed the great Gary Player&aposs record as the oldest to play in a Nationwide Tour event at 72 years, 11 months and 28 days.