Strange Takes Lead at Rainy N.Z. Open

Thursday, November 30th 2006, 7:59 am
By: News On 6

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) _ Australian Scott Strange overcame fierce winds and lashing rain to shoot a 4-under par 67 Thursday and take lead after the first round of the New Zealand Golf Open.

Strange had five birdies, including two on his last two holes as the conditions moderated near the end of the day, to take a one-stroke over countrymen Greg Chalmers, Jarrod Moseley and Kim Felton.

``I had a birdie chance on 17 and had one on 18 and I knocked them in,'' Strange said. ``When I had a realistic birdie chance, I holed the putt.''

Strange's late charge deprived Chalmers, Felton and Moseley of what had seemed certain to be a share of the overnight lead. All had played well to card 68s in Thursday's difficult conditions.

``I've had my wet weather gear on maybe six times in the last six years but playing in the wind is not too bad when the putts are dropping,'' Chalmers said. ``Overall I really am happy with three-under and I think in the wind that was a good score. There are a lot of guys who would give their back teeth to score a shot out there today so overall I am happy.''

Chalmers' late start meant he encountered the worst of his conditions early in his round but was able to make progress in calmer conditions later in the day. Moseley started in relatively calm conditions and was midway through his round when the harsh winds and rain struck the course, which stands on an exposed headland.

``I had the perfect start really out here, especially on a tough back nine,'' Moseley said. ``I was really solid through the tough holes I think so I am really happy there. It could have got pretty messy there but my finish was pretty solid in the rain.''

Felton also kept his composure in conditions which made some upwind holes hard to reach.

``It was nice to get off to a good start and then it was pretty much about hanging on coming in,'' he said.

Felton, Moseley and Chalmers were clear in second place, a shot ahead of a group of nine players _ including Australian veterans Craig Parry and Peter Senior.

New Zealand's Michael Campbell, the 2000 champion playing at home for the first time since winning the 2005 U.S. Open, shot a 71.

``The combo of rain and 40-knot winds, that certainly helped me make bogeys,'' he said. ``If you are close to even par today, that is a great score. If you shoot under par today, that is a hell of a score.''