Locals head NZ Open chances
BY Bruce Young | Web.com Tour | 2009 New Zealand Open | Preview | 10 Mar 2009
The Michael Hill New Zealand Open returns to the Hills Golf Club in the stunning Central Otago tourism region of Queenstown for the 2009 version of the event, 15 months after it was last played in December of 2007.
After three years as an event co-sanctioned between the European and Australasian Tours, the tournament joins the Nationwide Tour schedule this year, completing a three tournament swing in Australasia for the US based Tour.
The Michael Hill Golf Club is a John Darby designed layout located alongside the historic mining town of Arrowtown around 20 minutes drive from Queenstown. The course has been opened for two years and is an exclusive private golf club owned by the jewellery magnate Michael Hill whose jewellery empire stretches far and wide.
The last winner of the event was Richard Finch who went on to win the Irish Open in 2008 but Finch will not be here to defend, given that the event is no longer co-sanctioned with the European Tour and that he has significantly bigger fish to fry in Florida this week.
The field is headed in terms of world ranking by New Zealander David Smail who is playing at the Hills for the first occasion having been involved in a late season Japan event in 2007. Smail is the 88th ranked player in the world while the only other player inside the top 150 in this field is New Zealand amateur Danny Lee (144th).
Smail deserves to be favourite not only because of that ranking but because of the consistency of his form of late. He finished runner up in the Golf Nippon Series event late last year, 3rd at the Australian Open after leading with four holes to play, 31st at the Johnnie Walker, 8th at the Moonah Classic and runner up last week.
Another who is playing remarkably well is West Australian Michael Sim. Sim has recorded three consecutive top tens in his last three starts one of those when 7th in a significantly stronger field at the Johnnie Walker Classic. He has been in or near the lead in each of those events at various stages and the talented 24 year old could well go better this week. He did not play well over this layout in 2007 but he is a much better and healthier player now.
The young man who won the Johnnie Walker Classic Danny Lee says good bye to his New Zealand amateur career this week. After nine or so years learning his craft in this country he will be keen to provide New Zealand Golf one last look at the game’s leading amateur golfer before he embarks on a trip to the US where he will play the Georgia Cup before heading to the Masters. It was believed that Lee might play the Arnold Palmer Championship but at this stage that is still undecided.
Given the immense talent of the 18 year old it would not surprise to see him contending again but either way New Zealand golf has served him well and he has returned the favour.
Peter O’Malley has found some good form of late and as a player with a good record in New Zealand then he could be a chance to do well. He finished runner up at the Moonah Classic and was then 15th last week after an indifferent third round cost him his chance of victory. O’Malley missed the cut last time he was at the Hills Golf Club but when he finds form he often goes on with it.
Marcus Fraser is a player good enough to have made his way into a playoff for the Australian Masters before losing to Rod Pampling and those credentials alone give him some chance this week. The former New Zealand Amateur Champion played the Indonesian Open in his last start, finishing 12th.
Andre Stolz has performed well since his return to tournament golf in mid 2008 and the recent winner of the Tier 2 Victorian PGA Championship is a player very much capable of winning an event at this higher level. He was after all a PGA Tour winner in 2004 and in the form he is currently in he does stand a chance this week. His final round of 68 at the New Zealand PGA last week is a guide to his current chances.
Gavin Coles, Craig Parry must also be respected, Parry finisng 4th the last time the event was played and Coles playing well last week when 7th.
The Americans are an eclectic mix of old and new and there are several here this week who will be playing on the PGA Tour in 2010. Ryan Hietala was the best of them last week at the New Zealand PGA Championship when he finished 4th but Josh Teater and Steve Friesen also did well when sharing 7th.
Skip Kendall is a player with significant credentials in tournament golf and the 44 year old has shown that he is still capable of mixing nit at this level with a 4th place finish at the Moonah Classic.
Henrik Bjornstad has started this season on the Nationwide Tour with 4th place finish in Panama and Christchurch and if it gets cold this week it should be of little concern to the Norwegian. He wouldn’t win any prizes for consistency but when he is good he is very good.
The cool and damp conditions that prevail at this stage of the week are expected to clear although the temperatures are not expected to rise significantly over the next few days. This is one of the most exotic venues in tournament golf and if the tournament matches the location then we are in for a great week.