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Aussies look to spoil the party in Queenstown

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Attention: Sports Editors

Monday February 24, 2014

New Zealand Open: Aussies look to spoil the party in Queenstown

It has been more than 10 years since a Kiwi held aloft the Brodie Breeze Trophy but don’t expect any goodwill from the Aussies coming to the New Zealand Open this week in Queenstown.

Otago professional Mahal Pearce, who won the NZ Open at Royal Auckland in 2003, is famous for being the last Kiwi to have won the New Zealand Open which has been staged eight times since his victory.

The signs are that it won’t be any easier in 2014 with a host of quality Australian and Japanese golfers coming across to spoil the party at The Hills and Millbrook from February 27 to March 2.

New Zealand No.1 Michael Hendry (World Ranking 217), who has won the past two New Zealand PGA Championships at The Hills, is the leading Kiwi hope but he will face plenty of competition from the likes of in-form Victorian Matthew Griffin.

The Aussie is looking forward to plenty of Trans-Tasman rivalry when the tournament for $900,000 begins on Thursday.

“I guess all of the Aussies in the field will be coming to Queenstown looking to extend that streak,” said Griffin.

“Michael Hendry obviously has a great track record around The Hills and he will be very tough to beat but there are a number of Aussies, including myself, who’ll fancy their chances of challenging for the title on Sunday afternoon.”

Griffin arrives in NZ confident after securing his first professional title on Australian soil taking out the Oates Victorian Open yesterday.

The 30-year-old defeated New South Welshman Matthew Stieger on the third hole of the playoff to secure his maiden win.

He had previously won a PGA Tour of Australasia event in New Caledonia and two OneAsia tournaments in Asia on his way to finishing atop of the OneAsia Order of Merit in 2013.

“The win gives me a huge amount of confidence coming into this week, knowing that I am on top of my game and I have a good chance of contending at The Hills.”

Griffin, who was fourth heading into the final round of the NZ Open at The Hills in 2010, said he enjoys the layout which suits the ball strikers.

“I have played well there in the past and I feel really comfortable on the golf course. To win your own State Open is something pretty special but to win a country’s National Open is something else. I can’t wait to get back down there.”

Big-hitting Scott Hend (128) is the highest ranked player in the field, followed by Hendry with Japanese professionals Toshinori Muto (258) and Yuki Kono (279) inside the top-five.

A number of other highly touted Aussies are also expected to contend.

Scott Strange, who finished as the runner-up in 2013 at the NZ PGA after his playoff loss to Hendry is No.4 in the field at 265, while Nick Cullen (281) and Griffin (289) all feature in the top-seven ranked players in the field. 

Kurt Barnes (429), who comes to Queenstown on the back of two top-15 finishes, said it was great coming back to The Hills where he knows they’ll face a tough test.

“I am looking forward to the challenge this week, the wind is up and we have to contend with Mike Hendry,” said the 32-year-old who plays on the Japan Golf Tour.

“He has won here the past two years as the NZ PGA, and this year as the NZ Open. Mick obviously feels pretty comfortable around here and he’ll be tough to beat.” 

Barnes, who is a former winner of the NZ Stroke Play Championship, didn’t believe there was more pressure on the Kiwis with the 11 year drought of a home champion in mind.

“We all play to win trophies and there is a pretty strong field here this week. We’ll all be doing our best to win.”

Meanwhile Wellington pro Mark Brown, who finished as the leading Kiwi at the New Zealand Open in 2012 at Clearwater, is ranked 297 in the world and the No.2 Kiwi in the field.

Australian professionals Jason Norris (534) and Peter Wilson (659) who finished joint runner-up at the New Zealand Open in 2012, and shared the winner’s cheque with an amateur champion, also return to the championship.

Top 10 Players in the New Zealand Open (Based on the Official World Golf Rankings)
128 Scott Hend (AUS) 
217 Michael Hendry (NZ)
258 Toshinori Muto (JPN)
265 Scott Strange (AUS)
279 Yuki Kono (JPN)       
281 Nick Cullen (AUS)
289 Matthew Griffin (AUS)
297 Mark Brown (NZ)
322 Gareth Paddison (NZ)
389 Jack Wilson (AUS)

Follow the NZ Open
• www.nzopen.co.nz
• facebook: New Zealand Open
• @nzopengolf
• #NZOpen

NZ Open
• A minimum professional field of 132 players will play the first two rounds alternately at The Hills and Millbrook before the second round cut of 60 + ties.
• The NZ Open Champion will be the leading player after 72 holes of stroke play.

NZ Pro-Am Championship
• The NZ Pro-Am Championship will run concurrently to the main tournament.
• A minimum of 132 amateurs will partner with a professional and play in a best-ball format.
• The top 35 pro-am teams will progress to round 3 at the Hills and the top 10 pro-am teams will progress to play in the final round.

ENDS

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