Daniel Hillier carded a stunning round of 62 to take a one shot lead into the weekend at the 2021 ISPS HANDA World Invitational presented by Modest! Golf Management.
The New Zealander is playing just his seventh European Tour event and arrived in Northern Ireland this week with no playing privileges on the European Tour or Challenge Tour.
But the 23-year-old made a mockery of that status, beating his lowest round on Tour by four shots at Galgorm Castle Golf Club to get to 11 under and lead the way from England’s Jordan Smith, who carded a 68 at Massereene Golf Club.
Englishmen David Horsey and Garrick Porteous were at 8-under, a shot clear of countryman Eddie Pepperell, Spanish duo Nacho Elvira and Carlos Pigem, and German Matthias Schmid.
In the women’s event, American Emma Talley held a three shot lead over countrywoman Jennifer Kupcho and South Korea’s Chella Choi at 13 under.
Hillier enjoyed an excellent amateur career, twice winning the New Zealand Amateur, representing his country at the Eisenhower Trophy and winning a professional event on his native Charles Tour.
He is playing this week on an invite.
“It was really good out there,” he said. “Made the most of some pretty benign conditions in the morning and got off to a good start. Managed to sink a couple more near the end.
“I’ve hit it really well. Made one bad swing on hole 11 and made bogey there but apart from that it was really solid.
“I’ve been playing well the last couple of months, just haven’t really put four rounds together yet. In a pretty good position at the moment so just going to keep riding the wave and stick to the game plan and see how we go.”
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The World Number 678 got up and down from the sand for a birdie on the par-five 10th and while he gave the shot straight back on the next, he holed a 16 footer on the 13th and never looked back.
A tee shot to 11 feet on the 14th and an approach to three feet at the next made it a hat-trick before a smart pitch on the 17th saw him turn in 32.
Impressive iron play on the first and second brought two more birdies and he holed a 20 footer on the fourth before another smart approach brought a ninth birdie of the day.
A plugged lie at the tenth saw overnight leader Smith open with a double bogey and while he clawed the shots back on the 12th and 16th, bogeys on the 18th and second saw him stumble before he made gains on the third, sixth, seventh and ninth.
Fellow Kiwi Josh Geary continued to struggle, missing the cut to finish at 9-over.
Hillier will tee off in the third round at 12.39am NZT Sunday and all the action will be on Sky Sport 12 from 1.30am.