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Australian pair Griffin, Hend tied for NZ Open lead

3 minute read

Australians Matthew Girffin and Scott Hend share top spot with one round to play in the New Zealand Open at Millbrook Resort.

Experienced Australian duo Matthew Griffin and Scott Hend sit a single shot clear atop the leaderboard with one day to play after eventful finishes to their third rounds at the New Zealand Open.

Griffin - who is aiming to win twice in the space of seven weeks after previously going eight years without a victory - got to 14 under after holing a monster putt on the 16th.

The 40-year-old Victorian then made a fortuitous par at the 17th on Saturday after hooking his approach shot way left into the scorers' tent.

Playing in the final group, the 50-year-old Hend was not to be outdone on the highlights reel.

He holed out for eagle with a sand iron on the 16th and then made a clutch par on the closing par-3 18th after nearly flying his tee shot long into the water.

Griffin (67) and Hend (69) were at 14-under 199, a shot clear of Japanese duo Kodai Ichihara (63) and Takahiro Hataji (66), and New Zealander Josh Geary (68).

Ichihara was the big mover on Saturday, shooting the low round of the tournament, an eight-under 63 including 10 birdies and two bogeys.

Griffin gained a huge confidence boost with his drought-breaking Australasian Tour win at The Heritage Classic in January and has pledged to make it hard for the chasing pack on Sunday.

"I've been playing really well, just doing my own thing," said the 2016 NZ Open champ.

"I'll stick my head down and if I can shoot a good score, I'll make it really hard to beat me."

Griffin kept his cool on the 17th hole, getting a free drop after hooking his approach shot into the scorers' tent and then knocking a tricky chip to within comfortable two-putt distance.

"It's a birdie chance on the 17th," said Griffin.

"I was a bit in-between and then thought, 'You don't win golf tournaments by not playing the hard shots'.

"And in the end I got a good break after I hit a pretty poor shot."

Griffin and Hend agreed that conditions got considerably tougher later in the day at Millbrook Resort as the wind shifted direction and the greens hardened up.

Not that Hend needed to use his putter on the 16th hole.

"I just hit a sand iron from 118 (metres)," said Hend, who has led the tournament after each of the first three rounds.

"I didn't want to miss the green right so I just played it up the spine of the green.

"I was hoping to get a little kick and it did.

"I got lucky and it went in."

Rising star Taichi Kho from Hong Kong had been well placed to join the Australian duo at 14 under.

But the 2023 Asian Tour rookie of the year butchered the par-3 18th, carving his tee shot left into the water and walking away with a double-bogey.

Kho (67) slipped back to a tie for sixth at 12-under 201 with South African Ian Snyman (65).

The race for the Australasian Tour Order of Merit was thrown wide open on Friday when pacesetter Kazuma Kobori from New Zealand failed to make the halfway cut in the $NZ2 million ($A1.885 million) event.

There are quadruple points on offer for the NZ Open, with the 2023-24 Tour winding up at The National GC in Victoria later in March.

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