Hillier storms into contention at New Zealand Open

Two-time New Zealand Amateur champion Daniel Hillier can push for a matching crown at the New Zealand Open presented by Sky Sport, following a blistering finish to Round 2 on Friday at Millbrook Resort in Queenstown.

A breakthrough winner on the DP World Tour in 2023, Hillier showed his class on the more difficult Coronet Course on day two, making birdie on each of his final four holes for a round of 6-under 65 to climb into a tie for second, two behind Australian veteran Scott Hend (66).

Fellow Kiwi Josh Geary is also in a share of second at 10-under par after he too shot 6-under 65 on Friday, the pair among five New Zealanders inside the top 12 at the halfway mark of the tournament.

One-under through 10 holes of his second round, Hillier tried to stay patient through the middle of his round, taking full advantage of the scoring opportunities as the wind abated late.

“Definitely a bit of a grind out there but a few chances coming in and managed to make the most of them,” said Hillier, who for the second straight year has Tiger Woods’ former caddie, Steve Williams, on the bag.

“The key today was staying patient and hopefully I can keep that up tomorrow.”

Hillier and Geary were among the few players in the afternoon wave to make an impression on the leaderboard.

Starting his round from the ninth tee on the Coronet Course, Geary built his round through a string of three-straight birdies from the 15th hole, picking up shots also at one and three before handing in a card of 65.

“It was quite tough being up the top when the wind got up and the greens got a bit crusty,” said Geary. “I just had a really good ball-striking day which was good timing given the conditions. It was one of those days that felt, not easy, but easier than most.”

The Kiwi pair are part of a five-way tie for second after two rounds, level with Aussie veterans Sam Brazel (67), Marcus Fraser (66) and Matthew Griffin (68) at 10-under.

With a share of the lead overnight, Hend added a 5-under 66 to his Round 1 score of 64 to take the 36-hole lead at 12-under par.

Twelve months ago, Hend was two shots off the lead going into the third round of the New Zealand Open and, at 50 years of age, knows the reality of the task at hand.

“You can’t win every tournament but as long as you give yourself an opportunity come the weekend,” reasoned Hend, a 10-time winner on the Asian Tour. “If someone shoots a better score than you, then that’s the way it goes.

“But just give yourself opportunities. The more opportunities you get, the more you’re going to win tournaments.”

Reflecting the international nature of the event, there are 11 different countries represented in the top 29 on the leaderboard through 36 holes.

The last Kiwi to win the New Zealand Open was Michael Hendry in 2017, the only local winner of New Zealand’s national Open since Mahal Pearce back in 2003.

Other New Zealanders in the mix are Nick Voke (T7, 65), Ben Campbell (T12, 69) and Kieran Muir (T12, 68).

The cut for the top-60 players and ties for the final two round at the weekend fell at 4-under par, the same as in 2023.

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