Steve Friesen holds narrow lead at NZPGA
BY Bruce Young | Australasian PGA Tour | 2009 NZ PGA Championship | Round Three | 07 Mar 2009
Six years ago a relatively unknown golfer who had experienced success on the mini tours in the US arrived in Christchurch in his first full season on the Nationwide Tour. Ryan Palmer won the event that year and went on to play the USPGA Tour and has won two USPGA Tour events since.
Tomorrow, 31-year-old Steve Friesen, a golfer with a similar background to Palmer, tackles the final round of the New Zealand PGA Championship and has a great opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Palmer and establish himself in the world of professional golf.
Friesen leads the tournament at 11 under par by one shot over New Zealander Steve Alker and joint third round leader, Kurt Barnes and by two over five players at 9 under par.
“Finally for the first time I got to the Final Stage of Tour School last year after several years of trying and here I am for the first time, said Friesen. “I don’t think there is much difference other than steady improvement,” he added referring to his showing this week. “There is a fine line between doing well out on the mini tours and just getting out to this level.”
“This course feels a little like my home in Nebraska with the wind today and the mountains in the background Midwest – Minnesota or Iowa and that’s where I am from and the wind doesn’t bother me.”
“I will be nervous tomorrow as this is a huge opportunity but it is not like I have a big lead and there are a lot of other good golfers close to me. I can only control what I can do and if someone was to shoot 62 tomorrow I could still have a good round and not win.”
Until now Friesen’s biggest cheque in the game came courtesy of a US$65,000 payday at the Trump Million Dollar Challenge in 2006 but he has won five or six mini tour events winning between US$10,000 and US$30,000.
New Zealander Steve Alker is at 10 under courtesy of a good solid round but also of a 4 iron which he holed at the par four 6th hole. “The hole played a lot different today and I hit a cutty sort of drive and had 185 yards or so. On the opening two rounds we had been hitting wedges but I had to hit 4 iron there today.”
“It was a totally different wind today generally and a totally different golf course,” said Alker who plays on the European Challenge Tour and who still has a desire to play once again in the US.
Alker played the USPGA Tour earlier in the 2000’s after several seasons on the Nationwide Tour and still retains a house in Scottsdale in Arizona although he now bases himself in Kent in South East England.
Alker puts the improvement over his recent form down to a change in set up leading into this week, a knowledge of the Clearwater layout for which he was a touring professional for a couple of years and a decision to be a little more patient.
Barnes is playing with a new found attitude brought about in part through the success of his good friend James Nitties and the realisation that talent, of which he possesses plenty, is only part of the equation in golfing success. In the past few months Barnes has worked harder than ever before and a win tomorrow would be just reward.
Included in the large group at 9 under is the rising star of world golf and perhaps the local favourite Danny Lee who missed numerous realistic chances to improve his score and struggled generally on the greens. Still, the Johnnie Walker Classic champion of two weeks ago is well placed to make it two wins in three weeks when he starts his third round just two shots behind Friesen.
Also at 9 under are David Smail, Americans Ryan Hietala and Craig Bowden and West Australian Stephen Dartnall.
Dartnall was the world’s leading amateur just prior to turning professional in 2006 and has played mini tours in the US of late and the occasional Nationwide Tour event. He rose to prominence with an outstanding week at the Australian Open in December when he led before finishing 3rd.
Hietala recorded a win and a runner up finish on the Nationwide Tour last season but it was not enough to earn one of the top 25 cards to the PGA Tour but he has a chance to get his 2009 season on track once again after missed cuts in Panama and Melbourne.
40 year old Bowden has been a three time winner on the Nationwide Tour but it has been 18 events since he last recorded a top ten.
Once again however it is the congested nature of the leaderboard that offers so much intrigue in this event. 21 players are within four shots of the lead and all have at least a mathematical chance of winning.
Bring it on.