Fox on the run after Australian leader in the 100th New Zealand Open

Australian Zach Murray will take a five-shot lead into the weekend at the 100th New Zealand Open, but local kiwi favourite Ryan Fox is intent on running him down.

Murray continued where he left off in the opening round, clearing out from a share of the overnight lead with a confidence which belied his rookie professional status.

An eagle-birdie start helped the 21-year-old to a seven-under 65 at The Hills to be 15-under for the tournament, which will be based at The Hills for the final two rounds.

“I did not feel too much pressure. I slept like a baby last night,” Murray said.

“You can dare to dream about (winning this event) but it does not help the cause too much. Obviously you know what is at the end of the four days but I am playing well. I like The Hills. I feel it suits me off the tee a little better than Millbrook. I am reading the greens well this week and rolling the putts nicely.”

Japan’s Ryuko Tokimatsu sits five shots back in outright second after a tidy 69 at Millbrook Resort in his second visit to Queenstown.

“I thought I would come here if there was a chance because I don’t have opportunities so much to play in the world,” Tokimatsu said. “The course in New Zealand is totally different from Japan, but I also want to do my best tomorrow.”

Japan’s Kodai Ichihara heads the chasing pack at nine-under, which includes New Zealanders Fox and Harry Bateman and Australian pair Brad Kennedy and Dimitrios Papadatos, both former New Zealand Open champions.

Fox strung three birdies in a row together on the back nine to mount a case for the weekend, before hitting a speed bump similar in size to those which feature in the approach to The Hills front gate on the 17th.

“The goal today was to give myself a chance on the weekend,” Fox said. “It felt like we played every hole across the wind today and I hit a lot of good shots on the back nine. Obviously I had a hiccup on 17 probably with a poor decision with the second shot more than anything. It was nice to bounce back with a birdie at 18.

“I have the best bagman in the world with me and he keeps you in the moment very well and we did that well today. I found something on the range last night and carried that on and hit some very good iron shots today. I kept out of trouble in the main part except for making Steve (Williams) rake a few too many bunkers.”

Kennedy, a winner at Clearwater Resort in Christchurch in 2011, was pleased to get his flat stick working at Millbrook as he poured in eight birdies.

“I putted brilliantly today. I putted poorly yesterday and gave myself a talking to last night and managed to turn it around,” he said.

“The key is all about your wedges. I have worked on a blueprint of what it takes to be competitive and it is pretty much wedges and putting. If I can convert a certain percentage of those each day then there is no reason why I can’t be competitive and shoot a good score each day.”

Papadatos, who claimed his maiden professional win at the 2014 New Zealand Open, was initially just happy to be playing in Queenstown, but will now have loftier ambitions after a five-under 66 at Millbrook.

“I have a niggling wrist injury. It flared up over the last four or five days. I had to stop after two holes in the practice round on Wednesday so it was not looking very good.

“I thought I would not play when I was at the Champions Dinner on Wednesday night and I was seeing all the names and all the history behind it – then there is a bit more on the line this week, so winning for a second time would be pretty special.

“I had a few swings in the hotel room and said to my caddy that I did not know why I was bothering going to the course.”

Amateurs Jang Hyun Lee (Korea), who got in to the field in final qualifying, and national champion Charlie Smail, son of New Zealand professional David, both finished at four-under, to survive the cut by one shot.

Missing the cut which came at three-under for the top 60 professionals and ties, along with amateurs who were under that score, are former New Zealand Open champions Peter Fowler, Michael Campbell, Peter O’Malley, Michael Long, Michael Hendry, Jordan Zunic and defending champion Daniel Nisbet.

Other notables who won’t be playing the weekend include former USPGA Champion YE Yang and rising young Kiwi pro Nick Voke.

The final two rounds will be played at The Hills.

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