Auckland professional Richard Lee and Australian legend Peter Fowler headline the field for the ask>metro Muriwai Open, the opening event for the Charles Tour in 2011.
Lee will use the event from May 12 –15 as preparation for the Japan Golf Tour while the 51-year old Fowler, who won the 1993 BMW International Open on the European Tour, will play Muriwai to get ready for the Seniors European Tour.
The veteran Aussie known as “Chook” has won nine times as a pro around the world and came close to claiming the Carrus Tauranga Open in 2009 when he was defeated by Michael Hendry in a playoff.
But it is Lee, who finished runner-up in the inaugural Muriwai Open, who will begin as favourite. He returns to a happy hunting ground where he recently shot 62 in the company of fellow professionals John Lister and Bob McDonald.
“For me there's nothing better than going deep,” said Lee, the recent winner of the Brian Perry Classic.
“These rounds just happen. I used to get to five or six under and start feeling the pressure and drop shots coming in. Now I seem to have broken through the barrier.
“I am looking forward to playing the Muriwai Open again on a course that I love.”
Lee said that there is a 10 percent chance he will not play in tournament as he is waiting on flights for a Japan Tour event but said playing at Muriwai was more than likely.
He has fond memories from last year where he made a great birdie on the 72nd hole to equal the course record with a six-under 66. He finished a shot behind Hendry who made a 2.5m birdie putt to secure the title his third win on the Charles Tour.
North Harbour pro Hendry is not back to defend his title as it clashes with an event in Papua New Guinea that has a $100,000 purse.
But for New Zealand Golf CEO Dean Murphy that is a good sign that the Charles Tour is achieving its purpose.
“The goal of the Charles Tour is to get our young, aspiring professionals onto the world stage,” said Murphy of the Charles Tour that was created in 2008.
“Michael had a great year in 2010 and he paid tribute to the Charles Tour for his success in preparing his game so that he could compete internationally.
“His win of the Muriwai Open was only a few weeks before he had his breakthrough international win at the Indonesian Open – we are happy that that the system of player development is working.
“Now it is for the other young guys at home to step up and perform under the pressure of a 72 hole strokeplay event.”
Many new professionals like Nick Gillespie, Peter Spearman-Burn, Pieter Zwart and Keiran Muir (all making their Charles Tour debuts as professionals) are the golfers Murphy is talking about.
They will be met by a number of seasoned golfers Marcus Wheelhouse, who finished in third place last year, Grant Moorhead, Troy Ropiha and Brenden Stuart will tee it up for the $40,000 purse.
Some of New Zealand’s best woman professionals will also be in attendance in a first on the Charles Tour.
Caroline Bon, Susan Farron, Jenna Hunter, Phillis Meti, Pam Sowden and Stacey Tate will compete in a women’s field from the yellow tees.
Also in company is a top field of amateurs headlined by World No.1 amateur Lydia Ko.
“I used to get nervous playing in front of big crowds but now I really enjoy it and feel comfortable out there – I hope there is a big crowd,” said the 14-year-old Ko who will make her debut in the event.
The recently crowned New Zealand Amateur Champion Ko will be joined by men’s champion Mathew Perry and the New Zealand Strokeplay champion Ryan Fox.
Muriwai Golf Club manager Ray Barnett was pleased with the success of the inaugural event but he is sure the 2011 tournament will be bigger and better on a course that has improved out of sight.
“Since 1996, the start of the complete redevelopment of the Muriwai golf links the playing course has come a long way,” said Barnett.
“Competitors and spectators will notice even further improvements since the 2010 tournament.
“The weather plays a great part in links golf; last year the competitors experienced very benign conditions over the 72-holes. Should the well-known west coast wind blow during this year’s tournament, we would be most surprised if the winner equaled last year's 17 under par.”
The importance of the naming sponsor ask>metro, a local property maintenance company, cannot be overstated.
“The managing director Mark Blakey is a great supporter of the Muriwai Golf Club,” said Barnett.
“We appreciate the input of all our sponsors to ensure the financial success of the ask>metro Muriwai Open 2011.
“The tournament has attracted a quality field of professionals and elite amateurs. We encourage the Auckland golfing public to support the event and view some outstanding golf.”
“It is exciting,” added Murphy. “Auckland golf fans will see some of our best play a demanding course at Muriwai and for all who haven’t seen young World No.1 Lydia Ko play then it’s a good opportunity.”
The stage is set for the ask> metro Muriwai Open with a host of top Kiwi pros and amateurs ready to step up.
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