Aussie Veterans Lead While Local Campbell Heads Chase

Aussie veterans Matthew Griffin and Scott Hend fired rounds of seven-under par 64 to share the lead on the opening round of the 103rd New Zealand Open presented by Sky Sport at Millbrook Resort, Queenstown on Thursday.

Chasing close behind is Queenstown-based Ben Campbell is just one stroke off the lead after making a brilliant eagle on his final hole. Campbell’s 65 was matched by seven other players in a packed leaderboard with the players taking full toll of the pristine courses at Millbrook Resort and the benign weather.

Winner of the Heritage Classic on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia in early January, Griffin had eight birdies and a lone bogey in his round of 7-under 64 on the Remarkables Course in perfect scoring conditions.

It looked to be enough to hold the outright lead until Hend swooped late with a 64 of his own, also on the Remarkables, making five birdies in eight holes for a back nine of 5-under 30.

Now 40 years of age and a father of two, Griffin has recently pulled back from his long-time commitment to the Japan Golf Tour to spend more time at home. He’d been exploring new opportunities outside of professional golf but went wire-to-wire at The Heritage Golf and Country Club last month.

Griffin again finds himself on top of the leaderboard at Millbrook Resort as he seeks a second New Zealand Open title to go with his triumph at The Hills in 2016.

“It’s nice to roll a few putts in and make plenty of birdies and get right into the leaderboard,” said Griffin. “I feel like my game is in great shape and feel like if I can continue playing the way I have, I’ll give myself a good chance.”

Hend only squeezed in one practice round after arriving from last week’s Asian Tour event in Oman.

Dividing his time between the Asian Tour – where he is a 10-time winner – and the senior circuit, Hend has not yet given up showing the young guys how it has done.

“I still don’t want to admit that I’m 50,” Hend joked. “I keep telling myself I’m 18 and I can keep up with all these young guys.

“It’s more about being smart these days. I’m not too smart so it takes all I’ve got to keep up with them.”

Last year’s Hong Kong Open Champion and runner-up to Michael Hendry at the New Zealand Open in 2017, Campbell drained a 10m bomb from the front of the green at the par-5 18th for a round of 6-under 65 on the Coronet Course.

Hendry is the lone New Zealander to win their national open since Mahal Pearce in 2003 but Campbell, who lives in Queenstown, leads a group of six Kiwis within three strokes of the lead.

“It was good to finally hold one there on the last,” Campbell said of his final flurry.

“I probably had four or five putts come up short that I thought were in, so nice to make one there on the last.

“My game wasn’t too far away today. It could have been a really low one so nice to start like that.”

The international challengers in pursuit of Griffin and Hend will be unfamiliar to many.

JungHyun Um, a regular on the Korean PGA Tour who has spent time playing the Charles Tour in New Zealand the past two years, is one of those players in a share of third on six-under along with Spain’s Carlos Pigem who spent four years on the DP World Tour between 2017 and 2021, and is now back playing the Asian Tour.

It is the Spaniard’s first visit to New Zealand and he was understandably impressed by his surroundings.

“I have to say it is an unbelievable place,” said Pigem, who shot 66 on the Remarkables.

“The mountains, the lakes, environment, it is unbelievable, the landscape.

“I had a lot of patience today. Made birdies where I had to make birdies, made some great up and downs where I had to, especially on the last hole, where I made a great up and down for par.”

In a jam-packed leaderboard littered with international flags, there were a total of 37 players within just three strokes of the lead late in Round 1, the Remarkables Course playing to an average of 68.87 and the Coronet 70.76.

Round two of the New Zealand Open presented by Sky Sport tees off at 7:40am NZT, with a cut for the top 60 professionals and ties for the final two rounds on the weekend chasing their share of the $2M NZD prize purse.

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