Kennedy claims first national open in NZ

Brad Kennedy is the BMW New Zealand Open Champion after defeating fellow Australian Craig Parry at the first hole of a playoff at the Clearwater Resort on the outskirts of Christchurch on New Zealand's South Island.

Kennedy lived up to his standing as the leading world ranked player in the field, and what he later described as his best season in the game, by recovering from a slow start to catch Parry when the 2002 champion almost inexplicably double bogeyed his 72nd hole.

The final day essentially developed into a three way battle between the winner, Parry and New Zealand hope, Josh Geary. Kennedy had begun the final round three ahead and it appeared at that stage as if it was his tournament to lose. He so nearly did.

Kennedy started his round slowly with bogeys at the 4th and 6th and all of a sudden the door had opened for not only Parry and Geary but several others as well. For the second day in succession, however, Kennedy holed a lengthy birdie putt at the 7th hole to restore the balance but a bogey at the 9th had him just one ahead of Parry who, in the group ahead, was beginning to mount a charge.

Parry birdied the 9th, 10th and 11th holes to grab the lead at 8 under and was at that point one ahead. Parry appeared to have made a crucial and perhaps winning decision when he elected to go for the green at the par five 14th although the carry across the hazard was close to the limit of his powers.

He made it, albeit only just, and finished just short of the green from where he handled an awkward pitch beautifully and converted for birdie to move two ahead. He pumped his fist as if he knew it had been a gamble that had paid off and could well determine the outcome of the event

Kennedy created chances over the closing few holes but was unable to take advantage although a brilliant up and down from the left of the 17th hole still kept him in with a chance playing the last.

Ahead, though, Parry was about to give him a helping hand. After what had been a shaky start when he bogeyed the first, Parry played a very clever round of golf, attacking when he needed to and defending when necessary.

As he stood on the tee at his 72nd hole Parry had a two shot lead over Kennedy and Geary but his tee shot was left and although it did not find the water it would not be long before he did. From a hanging lie he pulled his second left into the water alongside the green and eventually took a double bogey.

The mistake had given Kennedy a second chance and although he left a winning putt just a fraction short he had done enough to take the event into a playoff.

Geary was another to have the opportunity to join the playoff but he found water from the tee and despite a great third shot he was unable to hole the putt to take the event into a three way playoff.

The playoff lasted only one hole after Parry found the bunker then the rough before pitching to 15 feet. Kennedy on the other hand found the left side of the fairway then hit his approach to 30 feet which he holed to eliminate Parry's remaining hopes.

"The day got off to a bit of a shaky start when I let one slip on the 4th and 6th then I made a great birdie on 7th and then let one slip on the 9th," said the winner. "I knew I was still around the lead and I just tried to stay patient all the way through.

"When I saw Craig get to 9 under at the 14th then I became the chaser and became a bit more aggressive. I missed a couple of putts when I couldn't quite get the read. Then I made a great up and down at 17th which kept me in the tournament in the end.

"The playoff was great to play against someone like Craig and to hole the putt to win was fantastic.

"I had a sneaky look at the leaderboard before I played my second. Ossie (on course commentator Ossie Moore) asked me if I knew what had happened and I said no to which he replied good but managed a look. I had the perfect yardage but came up a little short. I left that straight in the heart which was disappointing.

"In the playoff Craig found the bunker but I still backed him to make his par putt so I knew I had to make mine which was probably a good thing as I didn't try and two putt thinking if I was going to do it then do it on my own terms."

So where does this season sit in the career of Brad Kennedy? After all he has had a brilliant rookie season in Japan and now his first national open title.

"It is by far my best year in fact the last two years have. I got injured in 2005 and it has taken me at least three years to get back to being able to get exemptions into tournaments. That is why golf is so difficult. There are so many good players out there you need a good opportunity to get the next step forward and going to the Q School in Japan was a great move for me.

"From the WA PGA last year where I finished third and then the win at the WA Open and so since October last year till now it has been a great 14 months.

"To win a New Zealand Open with all those great names on it is very special for me."

Rohan Blizard continued his good recent form to finish 4th and following his win in Western Australia recently his professional career is now appearing as if it just might match his amateur success which included an Australian Amateur title.

Leigh Deagan and Nicholas Cullen tied for 5th which for both of them would be their best finish in an event of this significance.

The New Zealand Open was under pressure to produce a good week for a range of reasons.

Christchurch needed a successful tournament as it was hosting its first sporting event of any real significance since its disastrous earthquake in February.

A comparatively weak field meant that it was important to have recognised names in the mix over the closing stages and the event got just that with Parry and the field's leading world ranked player going down to the wire.

Throw in a strong challenge from a New Zealander (Geary) looking to become the first home-grown since 2003 to win the event and a tight finish and the New Zealand Open Championship was as much of a success as it could have been given the circumstances.

Golf New Zealand and tournament organisers can be proud of an event that was well run and has done a lot to have the sport mad city of Christchurch moving forward

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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