Smail, the leading world ranked New Zealand golfer took advantage of stunning morning conditions at the Michael Hill New Zealand Open on day one of the US$600,000 event, birdies at his opening two holes putting paid to the uncertainties he had with his form 24 hours earlier.
Smail, who won this same event at the Grange Golf Club in Auckland in 2001, told a packed media conference on Wednesday that he was uncertain as to how he would play due to a lengthy break he had taken from the game and that he had been unable, because ofÃ‚Â sponsor commitments, to play last week's NZPGA Championship.
Smail is a five time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, the last of those coming in 2005 but he has been regularly in contention since including in 2009 when he was three times runner up. Smail also enjoyed a commanding lead at the Australian Open late in 2008 with four holes to play before consecutive double bogies brought him unstuck.
"The golf was suddenly back with those opening two birdies," said Smail referring to his 3 foot putt at what was his hole, the opening par three 10th followed by a 15 foot effort at the next.
"I was not 100% happy with the way I hit it but I was with the way I putted. I am usually a slow starter in events so this is good." When asked what he considered the most memorable shot of the day he mentioned that a topped second at the 1st (his 10th) was one that sticks in his mind.
Fortunately for Smail he saved par and added two more birdies for a round of 65 and a one shot lead over American D.J. Brigman and Queenslander Andrew Bonhomme.
Brigman has been to the PGA Tour on three occasions and for much of 2009 it appeared as if he would make his way back there.
"I was inside the top 25 for the first half of the year but things fell away towards the end and I finished 53rd," said Brigman after his round of 66. "My putting was my problem and I have worked on that and today I made a ton of putts."
Brigman has proven himself to be a bit of an action man during his time in Queenstown. "Last year I did the bungy thing a few times and yesterday I tried hang-gliding and think it might have relaxed the muscles," he added jokingly.
Bonhomme has had chequered time on the Nationwide Tour starting with a bizarre injury when he fell when walking off a tee in Mexico nearly two years ago. He then suffered from tennis elbow for much of last year and has made the decision to focus his attention on Australasian and One Asia events unless he lucks out on winning one of the Nationwide events in this region.
Ã‚Â "I came back from the US with my tail between my legs last year but began to play ok with a win at the WAPGA and last week I finished 6th in Christchurch. I really like this golf course. You have to stay committed to shots. I think it allows you to relax between shots also as it is hard not to enjoy the stunning scenery."
Bonhomme finished 4th in this event last year and with that background and good recent form then he could yet be a factor later this week.
Australians Andrew Buckle, Matthew Griffin and Americans Dave Schultz and Daniel Summerhays are next at 5 under although Summerhays still has a few holes to play in his morning round.
New Zealand Amateur Champion, West Australian, Matt Jager was making good progress in his first round moving to 4 under through 16Ã‚Â holes.
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