Murray clings on to lead at the New Zealand Open

Sat 02 Mar 2019

Murray clings on to lead at the New Zealand Open


Queenstown, New Zealand, March 2: Australia’s rising star Zach Murray saw his overnight five-shot lead reduced to one after he battled to a third-round two-under-par 70 on a low-scoring Saturday at the 100th New Zealand Open.

The 21-year-old rookie let slip of his overnight lead after stumbling with a third bogey of the day on 10. However, he gained a shot on 13 to get to even-par for the day and surmounted a late challenge by rallying back with two closing birdies on 17 and 18.

Murray’s solid drive down the middle of the fairway on the last would set up his 15-foot birdie and helped him regain his place atop the leaderboard with a three-day total of 17-under-par 198 at the NZ$1,250,000 (approx. US$850,000) event.

New Zealander Josh Geary raised the local cheers after matching the day’s lowest round of a 63 to move into second place on his own at the storied event, that is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.

Kodai Ichihara made his move by firing five birdies in his opening six holes but slipped back with a bogey on 12 and a double-bogey on 13. The amiable Japanese recovered brilliantly with three birdies on holes 14, 16 and 17 to settle for a 67 and a share of third place with his 201 total.

Thailand’s Poom Saksansin and Jazz Janewattananond, who leads the current Asian Tour Habitat for Humanity Standings, returned with respective rounds of 66 and 69 to head into the final round seven shots behind Murray in tied-12th position at The Hills.

A total of 152 professionals and 152 amateurs took part in the event where the first two rounds were alternated between the par-71 course at Millbrook Resort and the par-72 course at The Hills. The 62 players, who made the halfway cut on Friday, will compete in the final two rounds at The Hills.

Did you know?

  • Zach Murray of Australia secured his 2019 Asian Tour card at the Qualifying School last December after finishing fourth in the 90-hole event.
  • Murray won the Nexus Risk TSA Group WA Open (an event on the PGA Tour of Australasia) as an amateur golfer in October 2018. One month later, he made his professional debut at the Australian Open.
  • Murray was ranked as high as 19th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
  • Murray marked his lowest round yet as a professional with his opening 63 at Millbrook Resort. He was in a three-way tie for lead after 18 holes but a second round 65 at The Hills saw him move five shots clear of the field in what is his debut appearance in the long-running event.
  • Murray is playing in only his third start on the Asian Tour this season.
  • Murray hails from Victoria, Australia. He is in Queenstown this week for the first time.
  • Josh Geary, 34, is a one-time winner on the Canadian Tour. He won the Saskatchewan Open at Dakota Dunes Resort and Casino in Saskatoon in 2008.
  • Prior to turning professional in 2007, Geary enjoyed an illustrious amateur career where he represented New Zealand in the bi-annual World Amateur team event - Eisenhower Trophy in 2004 and 2006.
  • Geary has recorded five professional victories, including three in 2015. He is attempting to win his National Open for the first time.
  • The last New Zealander to win the New Zealand Open was Michael Hendry in 2017.
  • Kodai Ichihara of Japan is the only player using a long putter this week.
  • The 36-year-old Japanese has won the Japan Golf Tour Qualifying School on eight occasions.
  • Ichihara claimed his first win on the Japan Golf Tour in June last year and went on to claim his second title in November.
  • The amiable Ichihara enjoyed his best season on the Asian Tour in 2009, where he capped five top-10 finishes and missed only two cuts in 15 tournaments. He returned to the 2019 Asian Tour Qualifying School in December but agonizingly missed out on his card by just one shot.
  • Jazz Janewattananond, who leads the latest Asian Tour Habitat for Humanity Standings, is making his debut appearance at the storied New Zealand Open this week.
  • The rising star from Thailand is eyeing a good showing to boost his rankings on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), where he sits in a current 78th place. He needs to break into top-64 by March 18 to qualify for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
  • Jazz broke into the world’s top-100 for the first time in his career after claiming his third Asian Tour title at the season-opening SMBC Singapore Open last month. That victory also earned him a coveted spot in The Open, where he made his Major debut last year.

Photo credit: Photosport NZ