Date: March 13, 2009
Author: Dean Wedlake at The Hills, Sportal

Norris takes equal lead

Australian Jason Norris and American Jeff Gove take a one-shot lead into the weekend at the New Zealand Open with last week&aposs NZ PGA Championship winner Steve Alker nipping at their heels. Gove was red-hot on Friday in a nine-under 63 at The Hills course in Queenstown, only one off Australian Peter Fowler&aposs record set at the Open&aposs last staging in late 2007. His bogey-free round included seven birdies and an eagle two at the drivable 301m par-four 15th, dubbed the &aposparty hole&apos this week with bar facilities and a spectator stand set-up to watch the action. Norris, playing in the same group, was somewhat overshadowed by his partner but was also blemish-free in making seven birdies including five in a row from the 12th. It&aposs often said a group can feed off each, be it with birdies and bogies, and the leading duo did exactly that. While Norris birdied 12 through 16, Gove caught fire from the 14th with a run of birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie, birdie. Gove and Norris are at 10-under 134 at the halfway stage, one ahead of third-placed Alker as his form continued to pick up from where it left off at the NZ PGA in Christchurch. Even losing his caddie 11 holes into his second round couldn&apost shift Alker&aposs focus. Relying on a volunteer with broad shoulders to carry his bag home, the diminutive Kiwi completed a five-under 67 to complement an opening 68. “I did miss him because we&aposd been really into talking about the shots and picking our targets,” Alker said of his regular caddy, Shane McInnes. “The last seven holes I was doing it all on my own. It became difficult to get through that period without Shane there but I got through.” A shot further back is American Alex Prugh, the only one of three first-round leaders to sign for an under-par round on Friday. Prugh shares fourth with Aussie Stephen Dartnall and Martin Piller, who both shot 69s, and Drew Laning after a 67. “I definitely thought scoring was out there, I just didn&apost make as many putts as yesterday,” Prugh said after following up a 25-putt effort on Thursday with 34 the following day for a one-under 71. “Yesterday I made a couple of 20-30 foot putts and today I didn&apost.” A superb bogey-free round of seven-under 65 saw Kiwi Josh Geary fly up the leaderboard into a tie for eighth where overnight leader Josh Teater also lies as he signed for a disappointing second-round 72. Before Gove&aposs outstanding round, the best effort of the day looked set to go to Canadian Ian Leggatt as he bounced back from an opening 74 to card a 64 and move into Saturday in equal 14th. Staring down the possibility of missing the cut, Leggatt – a former PGA Tour player – all of a sudden found himself to be a real contender over the weekend. A sour point for the New Zealand galleries is that they have been robbed of seeing the elder statesmen and the 18-year-old apprentice – Sir Bob Charles and Danny Lee – in the final two rounds. Charles was the feel-good story of the 2007 Open when he shot his age (71) three times on the way to becoming the oldest player to make the cut on a professional tour but that will not be the case 18 months on. Charles, who turns 73 on Saturday, made five bogies, a double bogey and two birdies in a second round of seven-over 79 to easily miss the cut at eight-over for the tournament. The winner of four New Zealand Opens, including one as an amateur way back in 1954, indicated before the tournament that this week would likely be his last Open should he dip out before the weekend. Meanwhile, Lee has played his last competitive round as an amateur in his home country. Lee, who will turn professional after next month&aposs Masters at Augusta, struggled to keep a handle on his frustration on Friday, shooting a five-over 77 to follow an opening 71. His round included a dreaded shank at the 3rd when he made a meal of a seemingly straight-forward wedge shot into the green, which led to a double bogey.