Thursday, March 12, 2009

Michael Sim down the field with 74

in New Zealand Open

ARROWTOWN, New Zealand -- Americans Todd Demsey and Josh Teater took advantage of early morning tee times to post seven-under-par 65s and share the first-round lead in the Michael Hill New Zealand Open, the third and final stop on the Nationwide Tour's three-tournament swing Down Under.
Alex Prugh of Washington did the unthinkable, equalling the leaders with his own bogey-free 65 amid gusting winds in the afternoon to make it a three-way Yankee deadlock for first place.
Texas A&M grad Martin Pillar carded a 67 and is tied for third with Australia's Stephen Dartnall and Korean-born Seung-su Han.
Thirteen more players are knotted at 68, including Steve Alker, winner of last week's HSBC New Zealand PGA Championship in Christchurch.
Sixteen of the top 19 players benefited from early tee starts at The Hills Golf Club, where calm conditions prevailed before afternoon winds picked up and held steady at 15-20 mph with some higher gusts.
"The only other time I played the course was Monday morning when it was cold and windy and I thought even-par would be a good score for the week," said Demsey, who was in the third group off the tee.
"I hadn't played it in good conditions and I'm surprised I was able to score out there. When the wind blows it's a tough course."
The par-72 course played to a scoring average of 72.99, though the average was only 72.12 by the time the first wave had finished. The best scores of the afternoon group belonged to Prugh, Michigan's Justin Hicks (68) and Australian Matthew Millar (68).
Of the 55 players who broke par, 42 came from the morning wave, while only 13 managed to better 72 in the afternoon winds.
Demsey and Teater have converged to share lead but the two have taken widely divergent paths to get there. Demsey, a veteran on Tour since turning pro in 1995, skipped the first stop in Australia, arrived in New Zealand last Monday with his wife and two children, struggled to overcome jet lag and promptly missed the cut.
Teater, a 29-year-old rookie, was one shot off the 36-hole lead in Australia and held the 36-hole lead outright last week before settling in for a T7 finish.
"With my family here, I wanted to make sure I don't leave them in the hotel room all day," said Demsey, who didn't play the course on Tuesday or Wednesday. "I practised for a couple hours. I'm just trying to spend as much time with them because who knows when we'll be back here."
Sightseeing trips have been a regular part of Demsey's routine in Queenstown, a winter ski destination that features jet boating, bungy jumping and an abundance of tourist activities.
"It's hard to tell how my game is because we've played so little," said Demsey, who tied for 47th in the season-opening Panama Digicel Championship last month. "I just haven't played enough to really know how I'm playing but I think it's pretty close."
Close is a good way to describe Teater's start in 2009. Weekend rounds of 76-76 dropped him back in the pack two weeks ago and a third-round 75 last week also pushed him off the leaderboard. Teater did rally on Sunday with a 5-under 67 that resulted in his first top-10 finish.
Veteran left-hander and former (British) Open champion Bob Charles finished with a 73 after being one under on his round on the back nine before fading.
Charles (72 years, 11 months & 28 days to be precise) became the oldest player ever to play in a Nationwide Tour event, topping Gary Player's record of 71 years, six months and 16 days in a South Carolina pro-am in 2007.
"Maybe I'll finish this one off," Teater said afterwards. "I've learned a lot in these few weeks. It's not really that much different today, it's the same as any other round. They all count the same. Hopefully I'll be in that situation again and I'll do much better."
Teater had distanced himself from the field with nine birdies through 17 holes when an errant tee shot found a fairway bunker. His second also found a bunker, his third went over the green, where he bladed his fourth shot back across the front and into the fairway.
"I had a great up-and-down for 6," he joked. "Today was totally different than the first few days we've been here. Yesterday morning in the Pro-Am I thought I played pretty well and shot close to even. Steve (Wheatcroft) was making some putts early and I think I just fed off of that. I realised I was going to have to make some birdies today."
Prugh came to the party late in the windy day, weaving his way to the top with five birdies on his final six holes. The second-year pro hit only six of 14 fairways but missed just four greens during his round and needed only 25 putts, the lowest of the opening round by any player in the field of 156.
"The wind is tough but it's obviously playable," said Prugh, whose T60 finish last week bettered only two others who made the 36-hole cut. "It was pretty brutal. Shockingly, the times when it wasn't windy, I wasn't playing my best. I just made some good putts."
Prugh's best came on the course's toughest. The 24-year old former All-American college golfer birdied Nos. 16 and 18 by cashing in from 25 feet both times. Those two holes ranked as the two most difficult on the initial day.
"I just got the putter a little hot," he said. "I'm looking forward to playing tomorrow morning when hopefully there won't be any wind and I can take advantage of that."
Reigning U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee (New Zealand) carded a one-under 71. Lee was four-under after a birdie on his 13th hole of the day but bogeyed three of his final four. Lee hit only six of 14 fairways, 12 of 18 greens and had 31 puttsrow (Nos. 13-16).
Thursday's weather: Cloudy. Calm early then winds SW 15-20 mph with gusts to 25 mph. High of 56 degrees.
SCOTSWATCH: Aberdeen-born Australian Michael Sim, who finished high up in the Moonah Classic near Melbourne and then the NZ PGA championship, will be fighting to beat the cut in the NZ Open after an opening round of 74 left him in a tie for 92nd place.

65 T Demsey, J Teater, A Prugh.
67 S Dartnall, M Piller, Seung-su Han.
68 J Herman, J McGovern, P Senior, D McKenzie, C Collins, A Bland, S Alker, V Veazey, J Blixt, R Haller, M A Carballo, M Millar, J Hicks.
Selected scores:
70 R Johnson (Wal) (jt 28th).
71 D Lee (NZ) (am) (jt 43rd).
72 K Nolan (Ire) (jt 56th).
73 R J Charles (NZ) (jt 75th).
74 D Smail (NZ), M Sim (Sco) (jt 92nd).



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