Australians take control midway through ISPS Handa New Zealand Open

A swag of Australian players are lining up to claim back the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open title with Terry Pilkadaris leading the tournament into the weekend.

New Zealander Michael Hendry’s win last year broke a run of five straight victories by players from across the ditch, but a new course record by Callan O’Reilly provided the individual highlight as a number of Australians put themselves into contention to take the silverware back across the Tasman.

Pilkadaris finished on 15-under par, with a one-shot lead over compatriots Daniel Nisbet and Callan O’Reilly with another Australian Travis Smyth alone in fourth on 13-under. The leading Kiwis Harry Bateman shares fifth place on 12-under with Australians Jamie Arnold and Harrison Endycott and Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino.

Terry Pilkadaris chats to Sir Russell Coutts, who was in his playing group today – photo:

The top-10 is rounded out with seven players on 11-under including Kiwi Tim Wilkinson, two Americans, Two Australians, and a player each from Japan and Korea.

Pilkadaris shot to the front of the pack with two birdies in his last three holes at The Hills to move to 15-under par, another quality finish after he closed out his opening round at Millbrook Resort with five straight birdies on Thursday.

“I didn’t really get into too much trouble. A bogey on 12 was my only blemish, but that was only my third hole,” he said.

“It was a little bit of everything, but I didn’t get in too much trouble and when I did miss a green I chipped it in.”

Pilkadaris has played on the Asian Tour since 2002, the last of his three wins on that tour coming at the Brunei Open a frustrating 13 years ago.

“It does because I have had something like six runner-up finishes, that’s the frustrating thing since my last victory. To win a golf tournament you have to have a little bit of luck and sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t.“

The lack of wind meant Pilkadaris was unable to draw on the experience of master yachtsman Sir Russell Coutts, who was part of the playing group in the pro-am format.

“I was going to ask him a couple of things, but there was no breeze to really factor in today.”

O’Reilly, who sits a shot back on 14-under alongside Daniel Nisbet, had the sort of day that all golfers dream about.

Starting the day at three under, he made the turn with a respectable six under and then burnt up the back nine like Sauron’s Eye, shooting birdie on every hole except the 15th for a 28 and a new course record for The Hills of 61.

“It is one of those things golf – it is not the most sane game you ever played,” O’Reilly said of his lowest score on a golf course.

“I played good golf, gave myself opportunities and made them. It is all you can do,” he said.

“I have been playing good. I did a little bit of work on Tuesday trying to fix the driver a little bit but it was outstanding today.”

Travis Smyth is a shot further back at 13 under, with fellow Australians Harrison Endycott and Jamie Arnold joining New Zealand’s Harry Bateman and Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino at 12 under.

Bateman was the leading New Zealander for a second round after a chocolate box of a walk around The Hills that included two bogeys, a double bogey, an eagle and seven birdies.

He finished a shot ahead of compatriot Tim Wilkinson after the former PGA Tour player had 29 on the front nine but left some shots behind on the back.

Tim Wilkinson drives amid the stunning surrounds of The Hills –

“I enjoyed The Hills. It is a beautiful golf course. It is very scoreable, if you hit your irons well there are slopes to help the ball get close,” Wilkinson said.

“I feel I have played pretty well, but not as well as I have hit in the last couple of months. I am a bit off with my longer shots.”

It was a forgettable day for some high profile Kiwis, with defending champion Michael Hendry (-4) and New Zealand number one Ryan Fox (-6) both missing what is believed to be an ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia record low cut at seven under.

Fox gave himself a chance when he picked up three shots over the 16th and 17th, but a three putt on Millbrook’s 18th island green ended his hopes.

A missed birdie putt on 17 and a bogey on 18 meant an early exit for Hendry at Millbrook, who at least had good company alongside the likes of Korean golfing star K.J. Choi (-6), Steve Alker (-5), and one of last year’s runners-up and 2011 champion Brad Kennedy (-5).

The final two rounds take place at Millbrook Resort.

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