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All three of the world’s top singles players at the Speight’s North East Valley 10,000 featured in some epic encounters in the first rounds of section play yesterday.
Commonwealth Games gold and silver medalists Aaron Wilson and Ryan Bester are both in contention for a third consecutive final appearance at the event. So is world champion Shannon McIlroy, who is seeking an unprecedented fourth NEV title.
Defending champion Wilson (Australia) survived a first round scare with a hard fought 25-23 victory over New Zealand development player Caleb Hope (Gore).
It appeared all one-way traffic at first as Wilson jumped out to a 10-1 lead after just six ends, but he got stuck on 14 as Hope played his way back into the match to grab a 17-14 lead after 15 ends. However, Hope dropped three shots on the 25th end to hand Wilson a hard-fought victory.
The early scare spurred Wilson on to a dominant performance in the second round, in which he disposed of Peter Thorne (Auckland) 25-11 in 19 ends.
It was almost a mirror image on the other side of the draw, with runner-up for the past two years Bester (Canada) forced to dig deep to overcome his first round opponent, Bill Clements (Alexandra). Bester only managing to pull away in the final three ends to escape with a 25-19 victory.
Despite appearing a little rattled against Clements, Bester then made short work of his second round opponent, Phil Skoglund (New Plymouth), with an untroubled 25-10 victory in 21 ends.
Meanwhile, three time tournament champions McIlroy (Nelson) and Dunedin’s Mike Kernaghan both survived second round scares as they seek to become the first player to have won the title four times.
Kernaghan was relatively untroubled in his first round encounter against Shayne Sincock (Christchurch), winning 25-13, but had to dig deep to see off a determined Josh Boyd (Havelock) 25-22.
It proved a day of close encounters for McIlroy. He beat Sean O’Neill (Timaru) 25-20 in the first round and then put in a come-from-behind performance to beat the up-and-coming Elliot Mason (Forbury Park) 25-22.
There were other close encounters, none more so than in the first round match between Otago internationals Mark Watt and Shaun Scott. Watt clawing his way back from 22-17 down after 25 ends to win the race to 25 in an epic 31 ends, beating Scott 25-24.
Scott, the 2009 champion, had sat on match point for the final four ends.
Watt then progressing through the pool of death with a 25-19 second round victory over rookie Sam Cooper.
Among others to finish the first day of section play unbeaten were: Ryan Burnett (Scotland), Seamus Curtin (Wellington), Andrew Kelly (Christchurch), Gary Lawson (Christchurch), Mike Carroll (Wellington), Tony Grantham (Auckland) and Keanu Darby (North East Valley).