South Australian Nick Cullen, West Australian Jarryd Felton, Queenslander Andrew Dodt and New Zealand’s Ben Campbell produced rounds of 67 to open up a two shot gap on the field in the event jointly sanctioned between the Australasian, Asian and European Tours.
Matthew Griffin, Maverick Antcliff and Stephen Leaney are in that group tied in 5th place at 3 under 69 but in the blustery conditions only 18 players would break par.
Cullen, the 2014 Australian Masters Champion, has been playing mainly in lesser events in Europe in 2018 where his best finish has been 12th at the Shot Clock Masters although he did finish tied for 7th at both the New Zealand and Victorian Opens.
The chance to gain full European Tour status and access to bigger events is a real incentive this week for the left-hander.
"I sort of played a lot of the Challenge Tour last year and this year. I'm just sort of playing the main tour events I get into in Europe. Sort of traveling from the U.S. and Australia, it's hard going over for smaller events with smaller purses."
Felton’s two wins on the Australasian Tour came at the 2015 NSW PGA Championship and at the NZ PGA Championship in 2017.
Dodt has won both on the Australasian and European Tours but his form for much of 2018 has been well below his best and this might well be an opportunity to get things back on track especially given the lack of European Tour players in the field.
Campbell won the NZ PGA Championship earlier this year and finished runner-up at the NZ Open in 2017. He has played mainly in Asia in 2018 where he is in his rookie year and where he finished runner-up in Bangladesh earlier this season.
Campbell was the only one of the four leaders to play in the more demanding afternoon conditions making his already impressive start even more so and was surprised given his black of preparation ahead of the event.
"I came from Thailand last week, so I didn't play any practice rounds," said Campbell. "I came out here on Tuesday, hit a few balls, hit a few putts and then just played the pro‑am.
"It was nice just to be able to have a bit of a rest where you didn't feel like you had to go out in a foursome, do things like that. It's my caddie's first time around here, but kind of explained, just told him how it was going to play."
The tournament’s marquee players Ernie Els and Vijay Singh recorded rounds of 72 and 76 respectively and Singh, in particular, will need quite an improvement tomorrow if he is to be around for the weekend although given the conditions it might be that he will only need to produce a round of 73 or 74 on day two if he is to do that.
Five of the first seven players are previous winners of event on the PGA Tour of Australasia, Antcliff the lone non-winner amongst that group having a recorded a best finish of 5th at this year’s Queensland PGA Championship although he has played solidly in his first season in Asia this year.
Once again, the lack of European players in what is a tournament jointly sanctioned by the European Tour is a concern for the event. Admittedly several of the Australians in the field are European Tour players but very few European Tour regulars have ventured down to the South Pacific.
While that might be a concern for some it does open up the door for an Australasian player to win and gain access to the European Tour as was the case with Jason Norris last year.
SIGNATURE HOLES: 3RD AT NAROOMA GOLF CLUB (NSW)
Want video tips delivered straight to your inbox? Subscribe to iseekgolf.com newsletters.