Record 61 shoots Campbell into NZ Open lead

New Zealander Ben Campbell signalled his return from the golfing wilderness with a course record 10-under par 61 at Millbrook Resort to grab the first round lead at the ISPS HANDA New Zealand Open.

25-year-old Campbell, now based in Queenstown, followed his share of second place at last week’s NZPGA Championship in Palmerston North with a superb round on his new home course at Millbrook Resort.

After two years of injury woes when he thought he may never play again, Campbell bounced back with nine birdies and an eagle along with one dropped shot in his 61 in the afternoon.

He holds a two shot lead on 2014 New Zealand Open champion Dimitrios Papadatos who played at Millbrook Resort and New Zealand’s Brad Shilton who bagged four birdies in his last six holes in his 8-under total at the par-72 Hills.

Six players share fourth place on 7-under the card including three Australians, two New Zealanders in Michael Hendry and Josh Geary, along with Indonesia’s Danny Masrin.

Five players share 10th place including rookie Kiwi pro Luke Toomey, leading Japanese player Yoshitaka Takeya, defending champion Matthew Griffin, leading Korean Dongmin Lee, and Australians Darren Beck and Aaron Wilkin.

There are three former winners in the top-15 with Papadatos, Griffin and 2011 winner Brad Kennedy, all from across the Tasman.

While idyllic conditions in the morning brought a raft of red-figure rounds but the blitz came late in the day with Campbell, Papadatos and Masrin at the par-71 Millbrook Resort while Barr, Hendry, Shilton, Kennedy and Geary made their mark in the afternoon at par-72 The Hills.

Campbell, one of the country’s most promising young prospects, was forced out of the game for two years with a lack of wellness. After moving to Queenstown he linked with two local therapists who returned him to good health, and well-respected coach John Griffin who resculpted his game.

“It was a very tough two years when I thought I might never play golf again,” said Campbell.

“It’s good to be playing and obviously getting off to a great start like this is always nice. I’ve been so lucky to have the people around me that I have had – friends, family and sponsors that have kept my spirits high.”

Papadatos, playing in the group behind Campbell, bagged six birdies and an eagle at the par-4 14th in his eight-under 63.

“I started well and kept going, including holing out for an eagle from 105m which helped me out a bit,” said Papadatos.

“Both courses are quite difficult but conditions favoured the players today and I was happy to have this start.”

Shilton zoomed home with four late birdies at Millbrook Resort for his eight-under round, after Barr and Lawson dominated in the morning at The Hills.

Geary made his mark on his second nine at The Hills with an eagle and two birdies, while Masrin scored seven birdies without blemish in his round at Millbrook Resort.

Victorian Lawson matched Barr’s opening round, continuing his love affair with The Hills.

The laid back Australian put his performance down to a re-dedication to the game and more focused practice.

“It’s such a good spot, I just went out and had a bit of fun and the ball went in the hole less than I thought,” said Lawson, who held a share of the lead after two rounds last year.

Joining them on 65 was Hendry and Kennedy, in a late afternoon glamour pairing at The Hills, bagging 14 birdies between them.

Flying the flag for New Zealand was rookie pro Luke Toomey; playing in just his second pro tournament the 23-year-old fired 6-under 66 at The Hills.

New Zealand hope Ryan Fox, who has Steve Williams on the bag this week, finds himself in a share of 29th place on four-under par.