Mark Brown showed why he was the regarded as the pre-tournament favourite on day three of the BMW NZ Open hosted by Christchurch.
The 37-year-old Wellington professional carded a six under par 66 in perfect conditions today at the Clearwater Golf Club to climb from a share of 17thplace into the outright lead.
He will take a three shot lead into the final round from Australian professional Peter Wilson (71) and amateur Jake Higginbottom (72) after he delivered a ball-striking master-class on moving day.
Australian veteran Peter O’Malley bounced back with a four under par 68 to climb into a four-way share of fourth alongside Michael Hendry who had a “round of two halves” as he signed for what, in the end, was a disappointing two under par 70.
But Brown was the talking point. The Kiwi, who opened with rounds of 72 and 73 at his first New Zealand Open in five years, is looking to become the first home champion of the national open in nine years.
“It would be huge (to win),” said Brown. “There’s a lot of things at stake at the end of this year around money order and so forth but I think overriding that is the chance to have your name on the New Zealand Open trophy. That would mean everything to me.”
Brown admitted the pressure of ending the Kiwi hoodoo at the event was on his mind.
“It actually did on Thursday and Friday [the opportunity to become the first Kiwi to win in nine years].
“I was two-over after eight holes yesterday and I was really feeling that pressure of trying to get myself into contention. Being a Kiwi you try to play well at home. I am sure that will be part of it tomorrow but there’s pressure every week on Tour. I should be in with a chance and if I play well. All those other things go out the window. It will be a matter of being mentally strong tomorrow.”
The well-liked pro, who is currently third on the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit, will try to secure his first international win since claiming the Johnnie Walker Championship on the European Tour in 2008.
He said the big difference in his round today was his work on the greens after some timely advice about his putting.
“I tried to make two changes today. One was to stay a bit more patient. The other was with my putting. One thing was picked up by a couple of mates watching on television and that was to stay a bit stiller over the ball. I have a tendency to look up at times and when it’s windy it is worse.
“I knew I was hitting the ball well. It was just a matter of making a few putts when I needed today and today, for the most part, I putted beautifully.”
For most of the day it looked like Brown would have company at the top of the leaderboard in good mate Michael Hendry.
The pair, who began four shots off the lead of Australian Daniel Fox, made the most of moving day. They traded birdies on the front nine as they fought their way back into the tournament.
Brown made it look easy as he made five birdies on the front nine to make the turn in five under par 31.
Hendry also turned in 31 after he was fast out of the blocks with an eagle on two that he backed up with three more birdies as he reignited his title hopes.
Brown said he was leaderboard watching as he and Hendry went on a birdie run.
“I saw Michael was making a charge and was playing great. We have actually been paired together a bit this year and I think we do spur each other on a bit. We played a few practice rounds together and I think both of us enjoy that because we both respect each other’s game and the way we play.”
After Hendry made another birdie on the par 5 10thhe lost his way. He dropped a shot at the par 3 11thand then made double bogeys on 13 and 16 and bogey on 17 to slip back to a share of fifth place.
But Brown carried on. He added a further birdie on the par 5 14thand came close to moving to eight under for the day when his birdie putt sat on the lip.
He slipped up on the par four 17thwhen the wind stalled his approach and his putt for par lipped out for his only bogey of the day.
Up ahead at the 18thHendry threw his ball into the lake in disgust after he parred the last for a two under par 70 that could have been so much better.
“It was a disappointing day in the end after so much promise,” said the 33-year-old who got to six under through 10 holes.
“I felt like I was playing really well and in line for a low one but I got a bit unlucky coming home. I am pretty disappointed that my tee shot on 16 found the water. I hit the shot I wanted to and the wind pick it up and it kicked hard straight into the water.
“It was a rough finish to a day where I had plenty of highlights and I guess tomorrow I will come back and start again.”
Auckland pro Richard Lee and Wellington professional Peter Spearman-Burn are the next best of the Kiwis in a share of eighth place five shots back from Brown. Waikato pro Brad Shilton (73) is a further shot back in a share of 14thplace and Ryan Fox faded to tied 21stafter a three over par 75.
Australian pro Clint Rice delivered one of the shots of the tournament when he made a hole in one with a six iron on the par 3 9th. Rice is tied 14thafter three rounds.
But tomorrow all attention will centre on Mark Brown as he looks to win the BMW NZ Open and end a nine year drought of a home champion in the national open.