Daniel Hillier one off the lead in South Africa – photo Sunshine Tour
Fresh from the recent win by its favourite golfing daughter, Lydia Ko, and a runner-up finish in Hawaii by PGA Tour Champions player Steve Alker, New Zealand golf is poised for further success with their highest and third highest ranked male golfers, Ryan Fox and Daniel Hillier, very much in contention in events in the UAE and South Africa.
Fox continued his remarkable bounce-back from last week’s missed cut also in the UAE to lead from an opening round of 63 at the Ras Al Khaimah Classic at the Al Hamra Golf Club, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE.
Fox’s lead has stretched to six shots after a third round of 65 and he heads Spain’s Adri Arnaus and Pablo Larrazabal, Scotland’s Scott Jamieson and Poland’s Adrian Meronk in the US$2 million event.
In George in South Africa, the highly promising Daniel Hillier finds himself just one behind Germany’s Alexander Knappe at the Dimension Data Pro-Am, a European Challenge Tour event, having led after round one and following a relatively disappointing second round of 72, charging back into contention with round of 63 overnight.
Fox is chasing a second European Tour title, having won in Perth nearly three years ago while Hillier is seeking a second Challenge Tour title having won during his rookie Challenge Tour season in 2021.
Fox, who missed the cut last week due in the main to a back injury he was suffering at the time, has highlighted his fitness with his impressive play over the opening 54 holes and while a six shot lead can be a tricky one he is delighted with what his play has created ahead of tomorrow’s final round.
“My head is in a pretty good place,” he replied when asked where is head was given the lead he has. “Ask me that on the first tee tomorrow and I might have a slightly different answer but I felt like I had really good control over the ball today, only hit a couple of bad shots and holed some putts as well.
“So I’ve put myself exactly where I want to be and it’s all on me tomorrow, someone’s going to have to do something really low or I’m going to have to play poorly so hopefully I can keep playing how I’ve played in the past few days and put it out of reach.
“I think I’ve made six bogeys all week and bounced back every time, so I don’t know why. It’s just felt like one of those weeks where every part of my game has just worked and when I’ve hit a bad shot I haven’t let it get to me too much.
“I’ve probably been lucky enough for the most part, I’ve had an easier hole after I’ve made a bogey most of the week. I’ve also seen a couple of putts go in like the one I had on ten after bogeying nine so everything’s been going pretty well.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been perfect. I hit two terrible drives on nine and 12 and missed a short one for par on nine. I let a couple slip yesterday, obviously I bogeyed the last which was playing downwind, but for the most part everything has worked which is kind of rare for me to be honest.
“I’ve always had something for the week that hasn’t worked, whether it’s the putter or I haven’t done everything else very well. But everything has seemed to click and hopefully I can keep that going for one more day.”
Hillier’s win last year in his first season on the Challenge Tour was impressive but was not enough to earn him a European Tour card and so he will continue to build on his growing experience at this level and a win tomorrow would give him a great start in pursuit of a DP World (European) Tour card for 2023.
Hillier made the cut and performed with distinction in the Asian Tour event in Saudi Arabia last week and earned US$17,000 which at this stage was no doubt a boost to his bank balance and his confidence given the strength of that field.
The 23 year old former Australian and New Zealander junior champion and twice the New Zealand Amateur Champion, is expected to rise to significant heights in the game and tomorrow presents a good opportunity to build on an already impressive start to his professional career.