Date: March 05, 2009
Author: Dean Wedlake at Clearwater, Sportal

Barnes the man to catch

He was under siege in the late part of the afternoon but Australian Kurt Barnes&apos eight-under 64 eventually held up for the opening round lead at the NZ PGA Championship at Christchurch&aposs Clearwater Resort. Teeing off at 8:40am, the big-hitting Barnes cleared out from the pack at noon before a barrage of birdies from countryman Ryan Hammond and Kiwi Gareth Paddison threatened to dethrone him. However, both Hammond and Paddison suffered dropped shots late in their rounds and Barnes was able to sleep on sole possession of the lead. Barnes, who missed the cut at last week&aposs Moonah Classic due to an ice-cold putter, heated up on the greens in firing seven birdies and an eagle. A six-metre putt at the last would have earned him a share of the course record but it slid narrowly by the hole. “I&aposve been playing well the last few months but been running into trouble with the flat stick. I changed putters after last week at Moonah, made a phone call to my old swing coach and got my short game on track,” Barnes said. “It was a eight-minute phone call that I probably should have made eight months ago but I made the call and he told me what he thought I needed to do to get back to the way I was putting and it certainly worked today.” Hammond actually led for a short time at nine-under thanks to an incredible run of six birdies in a row from the seventh. But bogies on the 15th and 17th saw him settle for second at seven-under – a score the Australasian Tour rookie would be quite content with given he missed the first three cuts of 2009. Paddison ran out to eight-under himself until a sliced drive into the water, and a failure to get up and down from behind the green, led to a double-bogey and fall back to a tie for fifth at five-under. The left-hander is still the best of the Kiwi contingent, one behind Americans Jason Enloe and David Branshaw who signed for 66s. Paddison is being followed close behind by Kiwi No.1 David Smail, who was runner-up at Clearwater last year. Smail opened with a 68 that included six birdies, including a holed bunker shot at the ninth – his 18th – to punctuate a day where his short game picked up the scraps from a misfiring ball-striking round. “I had no confidence at all. My swing didn&apost feel good and I was hitting bad shots/ mishits so it was a good round, that&aposs for sure,” Smail admitted. “I was pretty nervous actually – I haven&apost been that nervous for a while. It might be a good thing.” “It&aposs always nicer hitting it solid. I can&apost expect to up and down it like that again.” “I could say I got the most out of it – I didn&apost leave any shots out there really.” The galleries were out in their numbers to follow the fortunes of world No.1 amateur Danny Lee, who was short of his best but still managed to finish in red numbers. The 18-year-old New Zealander bogeyed the 11th and 12th after teeing off the 10th at 7:50am but fought back with birdies at the 15th, the first and the third to record a one-under 71.