Scott Hend, the most successful Australian golfer in the history of the Asian Tour with 10 victories, once again showed that being in his 50s is no barrier, after he shot a seven-under-par 64 to take a share of the first-round lead with countryman Matthew Griffin, who won this event in 2016.

They both played the Remarkables Course here at Millbrook Resort, just outside Queenstown, on a stunningly beautiful day, perfect for low scoring – in an event that features a Pro-Am format with the Coronet course also being used.

Thailand’s Gunn Charoenkul, who played so well here last year finishing sixth, made birdie on three of his last four holes to return a 65 and is tied third with Koreans Junghyun Um and Soonsang Hong, and Australians Kevin Yuan, Sam Brazel, Jim Mackenzie and Ben Wharton plus New Zealand’s Ben Campbell. Gunn, Um, Yuan and Campbell’s scores were on the Coronet layout.

Hend tied for 31st in the International Series Oman last week and the long trip to get here meant he was only able to practice on one of the courses.

Said the 50-year-old, who last tasted victory on the Asian Tour came in 2019: “Yeah, it’s a slow start out there on the front nine, which has got some pretty easy holes that I didn’t take advantage of. But then I got onto a bit of a roll and got used to the greens a little bit.

“I was too tired to have a practice run on Tuesday on that course, and I played the other course yesterday. So, it took a little while to sort of get a feel of the golf course.”

The Australian made a remarkable recovery from prostate cancer two years ago and last year won on the European Seniors Tour, while on the Asian Tour he remains a threat, finishing equal second in the Mandiri Indonesian Open last August.  

“Just [playing] to have fun and try and be there on Sunday with a chance to win. I mean, last year I had an opportunity and just didn’t hole any putts on Sunday,” he added.

“So, you know, in this format you’ve got to embrace it and have fun. I’ve got some good amateurs that we’re playing with and it’s a pleasure to meet new people like that and actually have a bit of a chat.”

Hend went bogey-free, making two birdies on the front nine, before five birdies on the second half saw him shoot up the leaderboard. He made four in a row from the ninth.  

Carlos Pigem, a graduate from this year’s Asian Tour Qualifying School, continues to make the most of his return to the Asian Tour, and is in a group of players in joint 11th following a 66, on Remarkables.

Pigem was a regular on the Asian Tour between 2013 and 2018 – winning the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship in 2016 – and is back in the region thanks to securing the fifth card as this year’s Qualifying School in Thailand in January.

Like Hend, he had to make the journey from Oman, where he was also 31st.

“I am really happy. Today I wasn’t feeling very good, after the jetlag, I had a little bit of coughing,” said the 33-year-old.

“I had a lot of patience today, made birdies where I had to make birdies, made some great up and downs where I had to, especially on the last hole, where I made a great up and down for par.”

It is his first time playing in this event and he joked: “This is probably the furthest point from Spain.

“I have to say it is an unbelievable place, the mountains, the lakes, the environment, it is unbelievable, the landscape.”

He competed on Asian Tour from 2013 to 2018 and also played the DP World Tour in 2017 and 2018. In 2018 he lost his playing privileges on both circuits, and then opted to play the Challenge Tour.

He won his card back at the DP World Tour school in 2019, played there in 2020 and 2021 and then the Challenge Tour in 2022.

“I didn’t play well for the last three years. In golf, you think you have the answer one day but the day after you can shoot the ball anywhere. So, this is why we love call no? You have to be consistent as long as possible. I was having a tough time. But from last September things are going better,” he explained.

“I really love Asia, when I was playing Asian Tour Q School I felt so great being back there, and I thought let’s see if I can finish the work and get my card, which I did. I am enjoying it a lot, this is my third event, so let’s keep pushing.

“The Asian Tour is a Tour I always love. It has been growing a lot since I played here before. The purses are going up, but also, I like playing in the heat, the people here are very friendly, it’s like a family for me, and I feel very comfortable.” 

Korea’ Wooyoung Cho and Jang Yubin, both members of the Korean team that won the gold medal at the Asian Games last year – when they played alongside PGA Tour stars Im Sung-jae and Kim Si-woo – both carded 67s on the Remarkables, along with their compatriot Jaewoong Eom, on the same course, who tied for second here last year. They are in a group sharing 17th.

Defending champion Brendan Jones from Australia shot a 70 on Coronet.

The tournament is the third event of the season on the Asian Tour and features 59 Asian Tour members. It is being jointly-sanctioned with the Challenger PGA Tour of Australasia in partnership with the Japan Golf Tour.

- Advertisement -