Asian Tour rookie Zach Murray got off to a flying start after signing for a flawless eight-under-par 63 at the Millbrook Resort to grab a share of the opening round lead at the 100th New Zealand Open on Thursday.
The 21-year-old Australian, who came through the 2019 Asian Tour Qualifying School in December, fired eight birdies to sit atop the leaderboard alongside Japan’s Ryuko Tokimatsu and Harry Bateman of New Zealand, who finished strongly to sign for matching 64s at The Hills.
Kodai Ichihara of Japan, a two-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, reeled in five consecutive birdies in his closing six holes at The Hills to trail the leading trio by two shots in outright fourth place at the NZ$1,250,000 (approx. US$850,000) event.
After turning in 37 at The Hills, Thailand’s Panuphol Pittayarat made his move by sinking six birdies in his back-nine to sign for a 67 and grab a share of fifth place at the prestigious event that is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.
Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand, who leads the current Asian Tour Habitat for Humanity Standings, carded a 69 at The Hills to tie in 25th place while defending champion Daniel Nisbet of Australia signed for a 70 at Millbrook Resort for tied-59th place.
There are a total of 152 professionals and 152 amateurs taking part in the event. The first two rounds will alternate between the par-71 course at Millbrook Resort and the par-72 course at The Hills.
A cut will be made after 36 holes and the top 60 players plus ties will go on to 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 in what was only his third start on the Asian Tour.
- Murray dedicated his good round to his father Craig, who turns 54 today.
- Murray hails from Victoria, Australia. He is in Queenstown this week for the first time.
- Ryuko Tokimatsu is the highest-ranked Japanese in the field this week. He sits in 127th place on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR).
- The 25-year-old Tokimatsu is a one-time winner on both the Japan Golf Tour and the Japan Challenge Tour. He had closed with two straight birdies to grab a share of lead.
- Harry Bateman teed off from the first hole at The Hills in the last group today. Despite opening his round with two bogeys, Bateman bounced back brilliantly with five birdies to turn in 33. He dropped another shot on the 10th but would recover strongly with three straight birdies and an eagle-birdie finish.
- Kodai Ichihara, 36, claimed his first win on the Japan Golf Tour in June last year. He went on to win his second title in Japan last November.
- 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.
- Panuphol Pittayarat of Thailand won his National Open for his second Asian Tour title last year. He has enjoyed solid results in his last three starts on Tour, finishing third at the 2018 BNI Indonesian Masters, tied-ninth at the 2019 SMBC Singapore Open and tie-15th at the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth two weeks ago.
- The 26-year-old Panuphol, who goes by the nickname ‘Coconut’, sits in 193rd place on the latest Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR).
- Known as one of the better ball-strikers on the Asian Tour, Panuphol is hoping to improve on his tied-55th place finish in what was his debut appearance last year.
Zach Murray (Aus) – First round 63 (-8), Millbrook Resort
It was a strange warm up for me. I hit about five balls and I was like ‘I’m not going to get warm’, and so I just sat in the pro shop and waited until the sun came out, hit a couple of putts and off I went.
I do that back at home when I’m just playing with my mates so I suppose I might have to do that more often now.
It was pretty steady, I didn’t miss too many fairways and I don’t think I missed a green. It was pretty straightforward, I putted well and everything just sort of clicked and I got a lucky bounce here and there where I needed it. Sometimes those rounds just pop up at the right time and it was fortunate enough that it happened here.
It’s my Dad’s birthday today. He messaged me last night and said 65 would be nice, considering he was born in 1965, so I added a couple of years onto him today with a 63. I spoke to him quickly just before and he said he doesn’t mind.
I love both tracks, I felt as though The Hills suited me a little bit more so it will be interesting to see how I go tomorrow. I haven’t been driving it well lately and that’s what’s been letting me down but I drove it well today.
This is the lowest round I’ve shot as a professional, I’ve had 61 on my home course as an amateur, but this would be one of the best rounds I’ve had since turning professional.
Harry Bateman (Nzl) – First round 64 (-8), The Hills
It was one of the weirdest rounds I have ever had. I topped it off the first tee and made bogey there and the next hole. Then I stuck in and got it back to par, and then lit it up over the last six or seven holes.
I honestly feel I didn’t play that well but got some good breaks and holed some great putts. My short game was unreal. I had a good two days at the Open last year but bit my legs off a bit. Hopefully I will just keep charging this time.
Ryuko Tokimatsu (Jpn) – First round 64 (-8), The Hills
I gave myself a lot of birdie chances today and I putted well. Playing in this pro-am format helps me to stay relax, although the round takes longer than usual. I hope to play the same for the next three days. I didn’t expect to play so well today so I hope to continue play well tomorrow.
Panuphol Pittayarat (Tha) – First round 67 (-5), The Hills
Six birdies on the back, it was a really solid nine. It was just too cold in the morning when we started. I wasn’t awake and I wasn’t moving (laughs).
I made a good par on the eighth hole. I was in the rocks but managed to get up and down from about 170 yards. The game started to warm up from there and I am very happy.
I putted better on the back nine although I missed a good birdie putt on the 10th. I think the turning point was the sun! It came up and I started rolling in the putts. The two putts for birdie on 17 was not too hard.
I made a great birdie on the 16th as well. It was a tough par-three. I got a good read from my fellow partner Poom (Saksansin). It was a really nice day. I really enjoyed the pro-am format. I played with Eric, my amateur partner whom I have played with before in Indonesia.
I played with Poom’s partner Lisa as well. They kept me calm. I kept myself calm. I kept them entertained and things went the good way! Playing at the Millbrook Resort tomorrow. It’s a birdie course. I will aim to keep my ball on the fairways and make as many birdies as possible.