NELSON, N. Zealand (April 23, 2014) -- It is one thing to be talked about as the home favourite. It is another thing all together to deliver on that expectation.
Tasman No.1 Blair Riordan continued his current hot form today at the New Zealand Amateur Championship when he carded a superb seven-under par 64 in the benign afternoon conditions at the Nelson Golf Club.
The 23-year-old from the Takaka Golf Club, who won the North Island Stroke Play Championship last week at the Akarana Open on the Charles Tour, showed the benefit of his local experience to earn a one stroke lead from Waikato rep Compton Pikari (65).
Northland golfer Chase McKeown (67) set the early pace and finished the day in third place ahead of Marc Jennings (Shandon), Sam An (Titirangi) and Jason Gulasekharam (North Shore) who all opened with rounds of 68 to be tied fourth.
But the round that all of the locals were talking about over their pints was the effort of their popular New Zealand rep.
“It is an awesome way to start,” said Riordan.
He had seven pars to start the day before setting the course on fire – playing a five hole stretch in six-under par – to the delight of the dozen club members watching his round.
“I loved it with the locals out cheering me on. It was great to be able to put on a bit of a show for them during that stretch.”
Riordan said the key to his low round was ball striking as he hit every green in regulation. It felt easy.
“I was hitting it great on the range and I thought to myself this might not be the best thing as it often goes the other way on the course but it carried on and so did my confidence.”
His older brother Sean caddied for him and kept him focused.
It is a team that is working wonders after they broke through to claim Blair’s maiden national title last week as the leading amateur of the Charles Tour event.
“I was pretty excited to get back here after the performance I had last week and it is awesome to put a score on the board early.”
The consistent ball-striker calls the Nelson Golf Club his “second home course” and hopes that gives him an advantage this week.
“I have my moments around here, sometimes I dislike it, but if you get it going you will have a lot of opportunities because the greens are really good.”
He has a simple game plan for tomorrow; to keep the momentum up and to finish as high as he can in the two round qualifying for the match play of the NZ Amateur.
Riordan has a good track record in the Australian Amateur and his best result in the NZ Amateur came in 2012 when he lost to eventual champion Mathew Perry on the 20th hole in the semifinals.
“I enjoy getting into the contest and taking on one person. I don’t mind who I play I will focus on myself out there and that seems to work.”
Meanwhile Waikato rep Pikari was pleased with his round of six birdies and no bogeys that was a result of his exact short game.
“I got up and down from everywhere today,” said the 19-year-old from the Te Awamutu Golf Club.
“It has been awhile since I have contended any tournaments so it is nice to be back.”
The former South Island Stroke Play Champion said his form has been good at home in the Waikato and he hoped to bring that to this event where he has a poor record.
Pikari said the wet conditions of the course – with all the rain that has hit the Nelson region in recent time - suits his game.
“The greens are receptive so you can really attack. I am just trying to hit it long off the tee so I can have some wedges in.”
He is looking forward to the match play phase of the tournament where there are plenty of risk and reward opportunities.
“Anything can happen in match play. I am just going to attack the course all week. That is my plan. I am making a few putts and feeling good about my game.”
Meanwhile McKeown, who battled a blustery Southerly wind early on, felt right at home at the Nelson Golf Club.
The 20-year-old, who plays his golf on the links of the Waipu Golf Club, set the clubhouse lead when he carded a four-under par 67.
He was rapt to continue his turnaround in form after finding something in his game last week at the Charles Tour event at Akarana.
“It’s been awhile since I have played any good golf but I had a 69 at Akarana in the second round and I came here with some more confidence and carried it on,” he said.
McKeown was bogey free as he hit 16 out of 18 greens in his opening round. He began on the 10th hole and closed out his opening nine with two birdies. He matched that feat on his back nine and was happy with his work.
“It was windy out there and playing pretty tough. It is very similar to my home club Waipu. I think the experience of playing a lot of links golf should help me this week.”
McKeown is yet to win a National title. He is a former Bream Bay Classic Champion and a two-time NZ Secondary Schools title champion with Whangarei Boys High School.
He is currently a week and a half into a swing change with his coach Quentin Diment.
“My swing is starting to find that slot at the top so it is starting to feel good.”
Auckland golfer Shanon Holden was also feeling good.
The 30-year-old from the Pakuranga Country Club recorded the first hole in one in his career when he made an ace on the 191m par three 15th.
He hit a five iron with a draw that came back against the wind and held its line perfectly to find the bottom of the cup.
“It looked pretty good from the tee,” said Holden. “It was a great feeling to see it drop. It is really special to have my first one in an event like the New Zealand Amateur. I can’t wait to tell all the family about it.”
Holden, who also chipped in on the two par threes (three and six) today, had come close to an ace on a number of occasions. His career highlights before his hole in one were two albatrosses at his home club but there they didn’t compare to today’s milestone.
“You can’t beat your first hole in one.”