Australian holds lead, winds pose test at New Zealand Open

It wasn’t quite the fireworks of his opening round, but Australian Chris Wood has done enough to carry a slim lead into the weekend at the New Zealand Open, presented by Sky Sport.

After carding a course record 61 on the Remarkables course on Thursday, Wood was happy enough to turn in a two-under 69 on the more challenging Coronet Course at Millbrook Resort for a one shot lead over fellow Queenslander Shae Wools-Cobb.

The experienced Scott Hend is third on 10-under, a shot ahead of his playing partner and fellow Australian John Lyras.

The Sydney player shares fourth place on nine-under with leading New Zealander, the 21-year-old amateur Kazuma Kobori, Korea’s Jaewoong Eom and Japan’s Terumichi Kakazu.

Wood was feeling some fatigue in the back half of his round, giving back three shots over his last five holes.

“I just tried to ride the momentum from yesterday, probably didn’t hit it as good on the range but still managed to get the scoring going early. A bit disappointing to drop three or four shots over the last few holes, but I can’t complain too much,” Wood said.

Chasing hard, Wools-Cobb produced nine birdies and two bogeys for a seven-under 64.

“It was a hot start, I was hitting it pretty close and I was four-under through five and it just felt easy after that. I didn’t hit too many bad golf shots, it felt easy, it’s a bit of a blur really,” Wools-Cobb said.

“The last four weeks has given me a lot of confidence the way I’ve been playing. I think I”m just going to ride that into the weekend.”

Hend accelerated out of the gate with an eagle and three birdies in his first four holes, and finished with two birdies over his last three holes for a seven-under 64 to move into outright third.

Playing alongside Hend, Lyras produced the outstanding round of the day, recovering from an even-par round Thursday to go nine-under on the Remarkables course.

“When you are both scoring at the rate we were, hopefully you can jump on the back of someone else. When I was struggling Johnny was going really good and I just tried to get on his coattails,” Hend said.

Lyras’ escalator performance has him contemplating the top of the leaderboard.

“I’ll hopefully drive the ball a little bit more like I did today and keep giving myself birdie chances. I’d like to give myself a chance of that final group on Sunday and give myself a chance of winning.”

The impressive Kobori, who won the 2019 New Zealand PGA Championships as a 17-year-old, was excited about contending over the weekend.

“Honestly, last time I played the open here I was six over total, missed the cut comfortably. Going into this week I was just looking to make four rounds and I’m glad I did that, whether that be nine-under or whatever the cut will be,” said the North Canterbury player.

Former New Zealand Open winner Michael Hendry fought back well from his opening round 72 to card a six-under 65. After battling the wind and some faster greens on the Coronet course on Thursday, the 2017 champion is now looking for another strong finish after he claimed the Vic Open last month.

“To be perfectly honest with you, coming off a good week a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been playing pretty well, I probably put a little too much expectation on myself this week and I think that showed yesterday,” he said.

“I’ve managed to get myself back into the tournament – I wouldn’t say back in contention yet – but you can’t put yourself into contention on the Sunday if you aren’t playing the weekend.”

Hendry has loved being back at a tournament which provides more than just good memories.

“It’s just so good. It’s the best run golf tournament I play anywhere in the world. I’ve played majors and they are well run but at the same time they are so immense it becomes almost a circus – just the size of this event and the great field you get, it’s just gorgeous down here.”

Defending champion Brad Kennedy carded a three-under 68 to move to six-under for the tournament and New Zealand favourite Steven Alker had a mixed round, a final hole birdie lifting him to one-under for the day and seven-under for the tournament.

“Those top holes started blowing pretty good, and from different directions,” Alker said.

“I had a nice finish, birdied 15 and 18, which was quite pleasing in the end. A bit of work to do, but we’ll see how we go tomorrow.”

Sixty-one players made the cut of four-under with notable players to miss out on the weekend include former winners Dimitrios Papadatos, Daniel Nisbet, Matthew Griffin and Peter Fowler.

After two days of playing across the Remarkables and Coronet courses at Millbrook, the weekend will see the field make a bid for the Brodie Breeze trophy on a reconfigured Coronet course.

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