Thursday, 30 November 2006

Australia’s Scott Strange produced a fantastic finish of three birdies in his closing four holes to hoist himself to the top of the leaderboard at the Blue Chip New Zealand Open after a day of torrential rain and driving wind at the Gulf Harbour Country Club.

Playing in the third last group of the day, Strange saw the best of the adverse weather at Gulf Harbour and took full advantage of the improving conditions towards the end of the afternoon to muster that fine finish and post an opening score of four under par 67.

That was good enough to take him into a one stroke lead from three fellow countrymen, namely Greg Chalmers, Kim Felton and Jarrod Moseley at this co-sanctioned event between The European Tour and the PGA Tour of Australasia.

Tournament favourite and home hero Michael Campbell bore the brunt of the most severe wind and rain during his first round, but struck the ball well en route to an opening score of level par 71.

The English trio of Nick Dougherty, Lee S James and Simon Wakefield lead the European charge on two under par 69, alongside Australia’s Marcus Fraser and Craig Parry and the Kiwi threesome of Michael Long, Mark Purser and Stephen Scahill.

Other Europeans well placed on one under heading into the second round are England’s James Heath, David Griffiths, Denny Lucas and Shaun P Webster; Ireland’s Damien McGrane and Carl Suneson of Spain.

Strange, who won the Philippines Open on the Asian Tour earlier this year, was the first to admit that he had benefited from the luck of the draw in terms of the poor weather at Gulf Harbour, but that should take nothing away from his excellent finish to round one.

“We got a bit lucky (with the weather) I think,” said Strange. “I had a birdie chance on 17 and had one on 18 and I knocked them in. When I had a realistic birdie chance, I holed the putt.”

Campbell, the 2005 U.S. Open champion who is playing on home soil for the first time since his major breakthrough at Pinehurst No. 2 last year, was pleased with his opening score, after which he stated his intention to win in his homeland on Sunday afternoon.

“I'm pretty excited about the next three days because I know I am due for a win,” he said “The hardest part today was trying to keep your focus in the rain, but I'm very, very pleased with how I hit the ball.”

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