Australian Zach Murray has claimed his first win since turning professional with victory in the 100th New Zealand Open in Queenstown.
Under a blazing Central Otago sky, the 21-year-old from country Victoria almost managed to maintain the relaxed facade on show through three previous rounds at The Hills and Millbrook.
His composure was tested on 18 after a wild tee shot, and a second shot which flew well over the green, before making it down for bogey to win by two strokes from compatriot Ashley Hall and New Zealand’s Josh Geary.
Murray, who previously won the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia’s WA Open as an amateur, claimed the Brodie Breeze Cup and takes home $AUS211, 724 for the win, along with a further $AUS11,292 as part of the winning pro-am team.
Starting the final round with a one-stroke lead over Geary, Murray had fallen back to the pack early in the back nine before an eagle and two birdies from the 13th to 15th holes propelled him towards a winning score of four-under for the round and 21-under for the tournament.
Murray is believed to be the first wire-to-wire winner in the New Zealand Open since Sir Bob Charles in 1954.
“Starting my career like this is so huge and to win the 100th New Zealand Open - I don’t really think words can describe that. I’ve etched my name in history a little bit, which is really good and I’ll come back and support this tournament as long as I’m a professional,” Murray said.
“Growing up in the country, being loyal to the people when you first started, I’m looking forward to playing this tournament for the rest of my life. I was speaking to (Sir Bob) just before and I’d never met him before, he’s an amazing man and I reckon if I could have a tenth of the career that he had I’ll die a happy man, I reckon.”
Beginning the day with two birdies to match Murray, Geary came unstuck with back-to-back bogeys on the fifth and sixth holes, only a good putt saving him from making it three in a row.
His tee shot on the ninth found the water and led to bogey, then he birdied the par 3 10th only to drop another shot on the next hole. An eagle-birdie-birdie run starting at 13 sparked his round to life but he had too much ground to make up on Murray.
“When I hit it close on 13 and got the eagle I thought ‘maybe’, but he responded really well. We lost the tee shot left on 15 but got a drop and made birdie and started to feel it could happen. It was not really gone because 16, 17 and 18 are holes that can trip you up,” Geary said.
“It is my first event for three months and it came with a lot of changes to the swing over the last six months. Overall I am really happy with the week. It was a shame I lost a bit of momentum today. I hit a good shot into 5 which hit the flag and missed the green and that started a five hole stretch of some weird stuff. I bounced back from that but it was too little too late.”
Meanwhile, Hall had reason to reconsider plans to retire after next week’s New Zealand PGA Championship after pushing Murray throughout the final round.
Hall’s five birdies on the front nine had him in contention and three straight birdies midway through the back nine gave him a share of the lead before he started to run out of holes and hooked his tee shot on the par 4 18th wide, finishing with bogey to be 19-under.
“I wanted to get off to a quick start and I did, I found some magic with the putter. I almost felt like I couldn’t miss for a little while. I’m a bit disappointed with the finish, just a bit jittery; I haven’t played much lately and haven’t been in the hunt for a while.”
Two eagles on the back nine saw Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond shoot up the leaderboard with an eight-under 64, finishing 18-under for outright fourth place in the 23-year-old’s first appearance in Queenstown.
“My caddy Jacob was just telling me that the two eagles on the back nine reminded him of
my back nine at the Indonesian Masters last year. I had two eagles to finish second there. I
am pleased with the way I played.”
Brad Kennedy came back from a bogey on the 8th to string three birdies together to be in a share of second place, but he could only watch a series of putts slide agonisingly by on the final holes.
He finished 17-under for a share of fifth with Japanese players Rikuya Hoshino and Ryuko Tokimatsu.
New Zealand’s Steven Alker, who will return to the Web.com tour later this year, was seven-under for the day, finishing tied for eighth with fellow Kiwi Harry Bateman and Japan’s Kodai Ichihara.
“I saved it all for the last day,” Alker joked.
“I only made two bogeys for the whole week, so not a whole lot of birdies for the first three days. The difference was a couple of putts and I birdied some par-5s today and that has made the difference.”
Korea’s Jang Hyun Lee was the leading amateur, finishing 11-under in a tie for 23rd place.
New Zealander highest ranked male professional, Ryan Fox had a solid five-under final round, but had to settle for a share of 11th place.
CAPTION: The 100th New Zealand Open winner Zach Murray kisses the Brodie Breeze Trophy at The Hills in Arrowtown today.
The image : Mandatory credit: Photosport.