Griffin, Hend back on top at New Zealand Open

They got there in wildly fluctuating fashion yet Aussie pair Matthew Griffin and Scott Hend will start the final round tied for the lead at the 103rd New Zealand Open presented by Sky Sport at Millbrook Resort, Queenstown.

After three birdies in his first seven holes, Griffin ground his way to eight straight pars before dropping a monster putt for birdie at the par-4 16th to take the outright lead.

That lead seemed short-lived when he hit his second shot at the par-5 17th into the scorers’ tent left of the green. Yet, after receiving a free drop, he chipped on and two-putted to keep his card bogey-free.

Griffin made par at the final hole for a 4-under 67 to be the first to post 14-under, joined late by Hend whose back nine scorecard resembled a colour chart.

The 50-year-old went out in 1-over 36 before coming home in 3-under, consisting of an eagle on 16, four birdies, a bogey on 15 and a double-bogey on the par-3 11th.

It looked anything like a round that would earn a share of the lead until it did, rejoining fellow first round leader Griffin at 14-under with a round of 2-under 69.

Kiwi Josh Geary kept alive his hopes of a maiden New Zealand Open title with a round of 3-under 68, in a share of third at 13-under with Japanese pair Kodai Ichihara (63) and Takahiro Hataji (66).

The New Zealand Open champion in 2016, Griffin will draw on his wire-to-wire win at The Heritage Classic on the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia in January when he tees off in the final group on Sunday.

That win was his first since his New Zealand Open triumph almost eight years earlier but will be a source of confidence as he seeks to become a multiple winner of the New Zealand Open.

“Going into the Sunday at Heritage, I didn’t know how I’d feel leading a big tournament,” admitted Griffin. “Having the confidence that I was able to head off some good challengers on the last day means I’ll be positive heading into tomorrow. There are a lot of good players just behind me, but I’ll make sure I’m hard to beat.”

A 10-time winner on the Asian Tour, Hend struggled in the middle part of his round as the wind switched direction, only to play his way into contention again with a perfectly executed sand iron from 118 metres at 16.

“Didn’t want to miss to the right of the green so played it up the spine hoping for a little kick. It did, got lucky and went in,” said Hend of his timely eagle. “Got a chance to win a tournament now so got to be happy.”

For Geary, Sunday presents yet another opportunity at his national open. His runner-up finish to Zach Murray in 2019 is one of three top-five finishes in the event, keeping his hopes alive with five birdies in his final seven holes.

“I hit it in the right spots most of the day. The two bogeys were actually from really easy positions,” said Geary. “Overall very good. I kept it in play and did my thing. The putting didn’t feel that good but I made a couple at the end with helped.

“I have had so many close calls here over the years, it would be amazing to win it. It would be pretty cool to get this one across the line.”

Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho (67) and South African Ian Snyman (65) are two shots off the lead in a tie for sixth at 12-under, Kiwi James Hydes and Australian Justin Warren both launching up the leaderboard and into a tie for eighth at 11-under with rounds of 7-under 64 on Saturday.

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