Golf: Good chance of a Kiwi winning NZ Open - Pearce

Mahal Pearce
Mahal Pearce
Mahal Pearce, the last New Zealander to win the NZ Open, predicts a Kiwi golfer will do it again at Clearwater this week.

It's been a barren run for New Zealand's best since Pearce won the title at Middlemore in 2003.

Last year's winner and runner-up, Australians Brad Kennedy and Craig Perry, are not back in a field which lacks some of the quality of past Opens.

"You've got a very good chance of a Kiwi taking it out," said Pearce.

"Mark Brown's in great form, Mike Hendry's in great form, Gareth Paddison, and David Smail. If not this year, then there's something wrong."

Brown and Hendry are his picks. Brown seemed to be "pretty calm and collected at the minute and he's got things very well sorted. And Mike Hendry, you never know with him, he can shoot some low numbers. Those two are my bet."

Pearce, 35, said he'd not played a lot all year. He played his first tournament of 2012 in Perth a few weeks ago and was a bit rough, but was "pretty pleased" with a marked improvement last week, he said.

Clearwater was a course that had grown on him over the years, he said. He did not like it initially, but they'd made a lot of changes around the greens with the run-offs and aspects like that, and improved it fantastically.

"I've played a lot of rounds around here now. I hope I can figure out a way to play it after all those. I don't mind it now, it's a challenge, and if the wind gets up, like any golf course it's going to be pretty tough, but if conditions stay pretty calm there will be some low scores."

When Pearce won the 2003 Open the tournament was worth $700,000 "and it grew after that with Tiger coming", he said.

This time it's worth Aust $400,000, and Pearce said a lot was going to be said about the prize money.

But it was difficult times for sport in New Zealand: "This is a one-off week and it's hard for a major corporate to come along and say we'll give you a million dollars, whereas they could go and spend a million dollars on the Warriors and get 25, 26 weeks of exposure. So you've got to realise that sort of stuff."

The joint favourites for the title are New Zealand's Hendry (who heads the Australasian PGA tour earnings list this year with $198,233) and Brown (third with $114,287) and Australian Nick Cullen.

By Nick Tolerton of The Star