28 February 2019: The centennial edition of the New Zealand Open got off to a rousing start, with three golfers – Zach Murray, Harry Bateman and Ryuko Tokimatsu – shooting scores of 8-under par, albeit on different courses. Murray played the Millbrook Resort for his 8-under 63 while Bateman and Tokimatsu went around The Hills in 64. Ajeetesh Sandhu was the best placed Indian, posting 3-under 69 in the first round at T25.
Rahil Gangjee made an even 71 on The Hills, needing to make some improvement in the next round to make the cut. He is currently lying in T87. Viraj Madappa was a further stroke back after managing only a 73 on Thursday.
Murray, the 21-year-old Australian, punched his ticket to a full season through the 2019 Asian Tour Qualifying School in December.
“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,” said Murray.
“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.”
Five birdies in the last six holes catapulted Kodai Ichihara, a two-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, into the fourth spot.
Thailand’s Panuphol Pittayarat was trailing the course when he turned in 37 strokes but made quick amends. He scorched the back nine with six birdies on his way to a 67 and a share of fifth place with Ashley Hall, Maverick Antcliff and Yoshitaka Takeya.
The New Zealand Open is a combined event with 152 professionals playing alongside a matching collection of amateurs. The golfers will one round each on The Hills (par-72) and Millbrook Resort (par-71).
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.
Asian Tour Notes
- 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 the 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.