Auckland amateur Jonathon Ratcliffe is the surprise leader at the halfway stage of the Port Taranaki Open after a superb six under par 66 in warm and fine conditions to lead Waikato pro Jim Cusdin by four shots.

The 18-year-old from the Akarana Golf Club, who opened with a five under 67, was the least experienced of the four players in a share of the lead but it didn’t show as he made two early birdies to keep pace.

But the magic came on the back nine where his precise shot making set up five birdies punctuated by his only bogey of the tournament on the 12th. Ratcliffe is playing the golf of his life and loving every minute of it.

“I am shocked…it’s a really nice surprise,” said Ratcliffe after walking off the 18th with a big grin.

“I never thought I would be in this position but everything seems to be working for me. It has been really enjoyable so far and I hope that continues tomorrow.”

Ratcliffe admitted to a few nerves ahead of the second round as he found himself in the spotlight.

“There was pressure there for sure. This is a whole new experience for me but the whole time today I was focused on staying calm and I worked on my breathing to stay in the moment and not get too far ahead of myself.”

With inclement weather forecast for Sunday two rounds will be played on Saturday to ensure the tournament is completed as a 72 hole Stroke Play event.

“It is going to be a challenge playing 36 holes in a day and I am sure the guys are going to attack my lead. I just have to keep doing what I am doing. It has got me this far and if I play my natural game then I will be attacking.”

Earlier in the day the round of Waikato professional Jim Cusdin, who is aiming to win consecutive Charles Tour titles, was the talking point.

If ever there was a time for the cliché of a game of two halves, this was it as Cusdin had a round of two nines.

The Carrus Tauranga Open champion, who teed off on the 10th, was five over after his first nine holes and then came home with a sparkling seven under 29 to post the then clubhouse lead at seven under par.

“It was unreal golf,” said the 26-year-old.

Cusdin made bogeys on 11, 17 and 18 and a double on 12 to be five over at the turn. He turned it around with birdies at 1, 3 and 5 before making back to back eagles on 6 (hole in one) and 7.

“I was in a bad position after making some really stupid mistakes on my front nine and I was ropable so I stopped and had a few words with myself. The first goal was to get back to even par but it ended up being a ridiculous round of golf where everything started going in.”

There were a number of highlights throughout the 29 but the standout was an ace at the signature par 3 6th at Ngamotu.

Cusdin hit a full eight iron to 160m to 10 feet left of the pin and watched it come back off the slope for the second hole in one of his golf career (his first was at the par 3 7th at Titirangi).

“It was unbelievable. It was a great place for it because the sixth is such a great hole. I was with John Bevitt and we watched it drop and then there were some big high fives and yahooing, it was mean.

“The best thing is that back nine has got me back in contention, I was getting pretty down on myself but it is a good feeling to walk off the course with a two under par. That has to be one of the best recoveries I have
ever had. It is a special feeling.

“I have given myself a chance now it is a matter of not getting ahead of myself and staying patient out there. Today shows that anything can happen and you should never give up.”

Defending champion Troy Ropiha was disappointed with his two under par 70 that got him to six under for the tournament and five shots back from the lead.

“I just drove the ball horrendous today,” said the 29-year-old.

“It is really frustrating as I am not giving myself the opportunity to score. But in saying that I haven’t played that well and I am not too far back. Jonathon has never been in this position before so if we can put some pressure on him, who knows?”

Waikato professional Mark Purser, a two time winner on the Charles Tour, had a second successive three under 69 to also be five shots back.

“I got really angry when I four putted the 12th,” said the 27-year-old.

“But I was able to control my anger and get my head back in the game. It is going to be a good battle tomorrow and there is a long way to go. I just need to stick to my processes and control what I can. It will be interesting to see how Jonathon handles the pressure.”

Earlier Dominic Barson had a four under par 68 to get to five under for the tournament and within striking distance.

“I hit it really solid,” said the 37-year-old.

“I only missed two greens all day and I have only made one bogey all week. I feel comfortable at Ngamotu and have a reasonable record here so that helps with my mindset.

“If I were to win it would mean that I have strung four solid rounds together and been able to hole some putts under pressure. That would be really satisfying. I play this game for a living and I want to prove to myself that I can win under pressure.”

Barson is excited about playing two rounds tomorrow.

“It will be a survival of the fittest I guess,” he said laughing. “If it is me and Troy Ropiha then it could be carnage.”

Phil Aickin, the Tournament Director for the Port Taranaki Open, said the change was the interests of ensuring 72 holes of Stroke Play would be completed.

“In recent years we have been challenged by the rain here in New Plymouth and after studying the Sunday forecast which is predicting rain all day we have decided to play 36 holes on Saturday,” said Aickin the Golf Operations Manager at New Zealand Golf.

“Whilst the course is in great condition and the greens may not flood, it is in the best interests of the players and tournament sponsors to take advantage of the better Saturday forecast.

“We believe we should do everything possible to complete 72 holes and this gives us the best opportunity to do so.”

The decision was supported by the players.

“It’s a good call,” said Barson. “It is a terrific golf tournament and right now in the fine weather it is a lot of fun playing out there.”

In the women’s field, Waikato Emily Perry continued her resurgence in form with a four under par 68 to establish a four shot lead over professional Charlotte Thomas at the halfway stage.

The New Zealand rep made four birdies, a double bogey and an eagle as she chases back to back Charles Tour titles.

“In both of my rounds I have been over par early but I have stayed positive and fought hard,” said Perry.

“That helped me stay in the game and I was able to score well on the back nine.

“It is really pleasing as the things I am working on mentally are paying off. I feel like I have a new perspective on the game. The sun is shining and I am happy. I hope I can keep this up tomorrow with two rounds and win another title.”


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