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Host of Kiwis chasing glory at The Hills

New Zealand Open: Host of Kiwis chasing glory at The Hills

It has been more than a decade since a Kiwi held aloft the Brodie Breeze Trophy and there are no less than seven contenders within striking distance of glory at the New Zealand Open in Arrowtown.

Wellington pro Mark Brown (66) and Richard Lee (70) lead the charge only one back from the lead of rookie New South Wales’ pro Dimitrios Papadatos (67) heading into the final round at The Hills.

While Gareth Paddison (66), Kieran Muir (67) and Craig Palmer (65) are all only three shots back in a share of fifth after a memorable day of scoring for the Kiwi professional contingent.

They will be chasing a young Aussie who is looking for ultimate redemption in Queenstown.

The 22-year-old Papadatos, who was disqualified from the NZ PGA Championship in 2013 for hitting an incorrect ball, led for most of the third round. He came back to the field when he failed to get up and down from the front bunker on 18 for his only bogey of the day.

Still he was rapt with his position and was looking forward to chasing his first title in just his second year on tour.

“I was surprisingly calm out there,” said Papadatos about his round that included six birdies and a bogey.

“I thought I would be more nervous with the big crowds. I started to get it going and I felt pretty comfortable. At first it was a bit overwhelming but you start to get used to it, you start to enjoy it more.”

Papadatos, who finished third at the ISPS Perth Handa International in October, said that experience of contending a big tournament should help him tomorrow.

“It will be good, [to be leading] is what I have come here for so I am looking forward to it.”

But the thousands flocking to The Hills will be hoping for a Kiwi champion and the drought since Mahal Pearce’s victory at Royal Auckland to finally end.

Brown, who was the leading Kiwi at the last NZ Open at Clearwater in 2012, had a roller coaster back nine where he reeled off five birdies, an eagle and a double bogey on the par five 17th.

The 38-year-old Wellington pro is in a great position to make amends for his missed chance in 2012.
“I was sort of getting a little bit behind after the front nineI’d played really nicely but I turned it around really nicely,” said the former European Tour winner.
“I just made one bad swing on 17 and made double, but part from that, she was all pretty plain sailing.”
The Kiwi No.3 said it was hugely important to respond to that double bogey on his final hole where he made a clutch birdie putt.
“Mentally more than anything, to prove I can put a rubbish shot, rubbish hole behind me and knuckle down.”
Brown was “in the zone” on the back nine as he delivered a putting master-class.
“I putted beautifully the whole back nine, holed some good length putts too, not exactly gimmes. It’s the best I’ve felt all year. Hopefully it carries on tomorrow.”
In a different mood was Auckland professional Lee who was less than impressed with his two-under par 70.
The 40-year-old, who is famous for being the only Kiwi for shooting a 59 in competitive golf, felt completing out of touch with his game today.

“I am struggling with my ball striking and I would love to go out there and tear it apart,” he said.

Lee believed he had a great opportunity to win his National Open. He was pleased to get up and down from the front bunker on 18 to save his par.

“It was vital to get up and down. I am really happy with that.”

The Japan Tour pro, who was the second-best Kiwi at the NZ Open of 2012, said there were some similarities between this week at when he won the biggest title of his career – The Thailand Open on the Asian Tour in 2005.

“It is funny. I always thought to win that you had to play really well but I didn’t play that week in Thailand. I just didn’t make the mistakes. I made very few bogeys all week and that has been the same here. I haven’t played great but I am scrambling well. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll find something.”

Palmer, the resident pro at The Hills, found something today.
The most unheralded of the Kiwis in contention, but the only likely to attract the biggest gallery tomorrow, delivered a round that had his home course abuzz.

The 34-year-old, who only plays three or four tournaments a year on The Charles Tour, carded his best- ever competitive round to be only three shots back from an improbable win.

Palmer said the highlight of his day was making birdie on the 18th hole which was met by a roar from the club members on the packed balcony at The Hills.

“It was a magical day and amazing to do it in front of my family and friends,” he said,

“If I can put something like that together tomorrow it would be a pretty exciting day.”

It is almost a Tin Cup story where the local club pro is contending for his National Open.

Palmer said it does “blow his mind” but he wasn’t too surprised to be scoring so well.

“I have said to a couple of people that I am capable of hitting the shots it just depends If I can keep it together in this big tournament situation because that is certainly a bit different for me.

“Today I stayed really calm and I stuck to my routines and I am as proud of that as I am anything.”

The popular local said he didn’t allow himself to think about winning the NZ Open at any stage today. His buildup to the event has been similarly low-key.

“I haven’t stood there hitting a lot of balls on the range. There isn’t a lot of point in me doing that but I have worked pretty hard on my putting,” said Palmer who thinks he is the only player in the field using a Lock-Arm putter.

He didn’t think he’d be too nervous ahead of the final round and wanted to enjoy the occasion.

“I think I can genuinely go out there tomorrow and feel quite relaxed because what I have achieved already is fantastic.”

Muir, the fifth Kiwi within touch, was also feeling fantastic.

The professional from Omokoroa, who only made the field by winning a playoff at a Final Qualifying Event at Omaha Beach, made five birdies in his final six holes to keep in the hunt.

Te Anau professional David Klein (69) and Auckland pro Ryan Fox (69) are also still in contention. They will begin the final round in a share of ninth place, four shots back from the lead.

It has been a long time between drinks and a procession of Kiwis are looking to make Pearce’s win at Middlemore a distant memory tomorrow.

Ends

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