Defending champion returns to New Zealand Open after remarkable year

What a difference 12 months has made for professional golfer Zach Murray

This time last year the affable Aussie landed in picturesque Queenstown as a virtual unknown; this week he arrived to find his image plastered across the front doors of his hotel as the defending champion of the New Zealand Open.

“I think I’ve said all along, this is one of my favourite places in the world, Queenstown, and to come back here I was really excited,” Murray said.

“I won’t put any pressure on myself. The expectation is to come back and play well. My game is in good shape. I’ve got a lot of family and friends who are over this week and it would be just nice to be able to get out there and play.”

Murray was looking forward to re-living some of the emotions he felt when he went wire-to-wire on the way to a two-shot victory in the Open’s 100th edition.

A year ago he seemed to take a breakthrough win in his lanky stride, and he was looking forward to returning to the scene of that victory on the 18th green at The Hills in his second round on Friday with a few less nerves boiling away under his cap.

“It’s not often you come and defend a title, but I’m definitely going to give it a red-hot crack.”

The 22-year-old comes to New Zealand directly from a T48 finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship, to go with recent T15 and T21 finishes at the Vic Open and Abu Dhabi Championship, respectively.

Murray was hoping youth and a positive outlook would help him fend off any fatigue from the long-haul trip to Queenstown.

“It was an amazing week last week in Mexico and the last 12 months have been a bit of a blur for me really. Obviously winning here last year kickstarted me for 2019 and I played quite well up in Asia in the co-sanctioned stuff and then was able to finish the year decent at the PGA and get my European Tour card, so that was a huge bonus for me.”

A bout of food poisoning disrupted his preparations in Mexico, but Murray felt on safer ground enjoying a pie from the Arrowtown bakery before embarking on nine holes at Millbrook.

He has an afternoon start (1.17pm) at Millbrook Resort tomorrow.

“At the moment I’m feeling pretty good, I had a fair bit of sleep on the plane and the last few months my swing has been feeling pretty consistent. Obviously last week, (I take) a lot of confidence from that.”

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