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New Zealand Open: Final qualifiers found at Omaha Beach

Christchurch professional Tony Christie has come out of the golfing wilderness to qualify for the New Zealand Open Championship.

The 44-year-old, who these days is the golf pro at the exclusive Laucala Resort in Fiji where he mixes with the world’s most-renowned celebrities, carded a four-under par 67 today to share the honours at Omaha Beach Golf Club with South Korean pro Dongwoo Kang.

He was one of five players to qualify from the 39-strong field for the $900,000 event which will be staged this week in Queenstown from February 27 to March 2.

Fijian professional Vikrant Chandra and Auckland pro Marcus Wheelhouse both carded rounds of three-under par 68 to secure their spots and the fifth and final place went to Bay of Plenty professional Kieran Muir who won in sudden death from three players.

The last Final Qualifying event is to be staged at the Cromwell Golf Club tomorrow with the final five places in the 132-strong field up for grabs.

But the talking point today was the unexpected performance of one of New Zealand’s former touring professionals – Christie qualified for the National Open for the first time in seven years.

“It has been a little while,” he joked. “I played great and to be heading to the New Zealand Open is just brilliant.”

Christie, who is a three-time former champion of the Omaha Beach Pro-Am, showed his experience on the championship layout.

“I came home with very little expectation to be honest. I haven’t played any competitive golf for the past five or six years but today it all fell into place.”

The former three-time Eisenhower rep is taking time out from island life to “reacquaint himself with the game in New Zealand”.

He said a change in mindset heading into today’s one round shootout helped him immensely.

“I woke up this morning and I said to myself: ‘I expect to play well and I expect to be going to Queenstown’. I kept really positive and it worked.”

Christie got off to a slow start, he was one-over par through eight holes, before he made four birdies in five holes to turn things around.

“When I knew I was close I started to get nervous and the ball striking went,” he said. “But it was nice to feel the butterflies beating away in my stomach and to have to make some putts under pressure.”

While Christie was feeling the nerves, so too were four other players – Muir, amateur Charlie Hillier, Peter Lee, and Leighton James - who tied for fifth place and had to playoff for qualifying.

Muir advanced when he made a five foot putt on the first playoff hole, the 1st at Omaha Beach, while all three of the other players missed the green and failed to get up and down.

Bay of Plenty amateur rep Hillier secured the sixth spot on the rankings when he made a birdie on the second playoff hole, the par 3 17th.

The 94th New Zealand Open begins on Thursday with The Hills and Millbrook co-hosting the tournament for the first time.

New Zealand Open – Final Qualifying Results – Omaha Beach Golf Club – Par 71 (NZ unless noted):
67 Tony Christie, Dongwoo Kang (SKR)
68 Vikrant Chandra (FIJ), Marcus Wheelhouse
69 Kieran Muir*, Charlie Hillier (a), Peter Lee, Leighton James
(*Muir advanced in a four-way playoff)
70 Hogan Cho, Steven Han, Henry Epstein (AUS)
71 Joshua Leitch, Jong Yup Kim
72 James Hamilton, Kyle Wong
73 Xavier Ruiz Fonhof, Ben Williams, Sam An (a), Matthew Field, Martin Pettigrew, Luke Bangerter
74 Sean Riordan, Tae Koh (a)
75 Joshua Carmichael, Craig Hamilton
76 Dean Sipson, Lee Neumann
77 Pengxiang Ang, William Brown, Harry Bateman, Tom Long
78 Chris Treen, Joonsang Chung
79 Johnny Tynan
80 Nicolai Walynetz,
81 Mitsuhiro Maeda, Rodney Donaldson
87 Blake Cowley

ENDS

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