Date: December 01, 2007
Author: Dean Wedlake at The Hills

Finch in front at final turn

Course record-breaker Peter Fowler provided the early highlights but Englishman Richard Finch is the man to catch on the final day of the Michael Hill New Zealand Open. Finch, who held the previous record of 65 with Aussie Steven Bowditch before Fowler&aposs incredible 10-under-par 62, took full advantage of a horrific slip-up by Bowditch to grab first place and never relinquished it. Finch is three shots ahead of Bowditch and four clear of Fowler, going one better than his second round to record a near-flawless eight-under-par 64 that was simplicity in itself. Racing away on the outward nine with a five-under 31, Finch&aposs no-nonsense mix of fairways and greens coupled with a steady putter saw him come home in 33 with birdies on the 17th and 18th. “I hit the fairways, hit it as near to the pin on the green as I could then tried to give myself a chance to drop the putts in,” was Finch&aposs account of his day. “I was looking at the leaderboard on the way round at about the 13th or 14th and thought that if I could press on over the last few holes and make a few birdies I could open up a bit of a lead.” Speaking of leads, Bowditch admitted on Friday it&aposd been a while since he held one in a tournament and his third round was testimony to that. He birdied the 475m first hole to grab outright top spot but a lapse in concentration on another par-five, the ninth, cost him dearly. Finding a brutal patch of long tussock grass off the tee, he was forced to drop and took the gamble of another wood out of the rough. It didn&apost pay off, landing him in a buried lie in a greenside bunker before taking two blasts to get out and finally recording a triple-bogey to drop down the list. He bounced back with four straight birdies from the 12th to the 15th, gave one back at the tricky par-three 16th, then missed a three-footer for another birdie on 17 and eventually carded a disappointing 71. Meanwhile, an icy Friday night dip in Lake Wakatipu cooled Fowler after dropping five strokes in three holes late in the day, and he came out suitably refreshed on Saturday. Recording eight birdies and an eagle at the par-five 13th, Fowler broke the course record by three shots and actually held the lead at one stage despite starting the day in a tie for 41st at even-par. His round was the lowest of his professional career and also equalled the New Zealand Open single-round scoring record held by fellow Aussies Rodger Davis and Paul Gow. “It&aposs hard to explain to the average golfer but you can play the same and shoot 72,” Fowler said. “I hit a few wild shots but got away with those. I was in a positive, aggressive state of mind today – I had a couple of real soft shots that I hit yesterday so fortunately I improved on that today.” His and Finch&aposs efforts outshone three fine rounds from Englishman Robert Dinwiddie and Aussies Matthew Zions and Ewan Porter, who all carded six-under 66&aposs. Porter is tied for fourth, Dinwiddie is in a tie for eighth while Zions is equal 11th. There were also four 67s carded by Scott Gardiner, Aaron Townsend, Adam Bland and Alexander Noren. Also in fourth on 11-under is Australian Paul Sheehan, although he would&aposve been bitterly disappointed with his one-over-par 73 where he made two bogies early on, grabbed them back at the 15th and 17th then dropped another on the 18th. Michael Long is no longer the leading Kiwi, dethroned by Mahal Pearce who finished on six-under-par after shooting a three-under-par round of 69. Long, four-under-par for the tournament, never got going on Saturday and carded a four-over-par 76 that included six bogies. Sir Bob Charles, who became the oldest player on a major worldwide tour to make the cut at 71 years and 261 days, was in no mood to settle for that to be the crowning glory of his week. Parring the first two holes on Saturday, he birdied the par-four third and then nailed his tee shot on the par-three fourth to four feet and duly nailed the putt. Unfortunately he could only manage one further birdie for his round and eventually signed for a one-under-par 71, the second time he has matched or bettered his age in two days. He goes into the final day in a tie for 34th. The hard luck story of the day went to fellow New Zealander Doug Holloway. Coming to the signature hole of The Hills, the par-five 17th, Holloway was in fine shape at four-under for his day and three-under for the tournament. However, a ghasty 10 spoiled what would&aposve been an otherwise buoyant mood as he eventually signed for a two-over-par 74. His tee shot found a flax bush, his second stayed in there before taking a penalty drop. He then hit right again onto the rocks on the hill, went the other way into another flaxed graveyard and flirted with bunkers and rough before finally holing out for double figures.