Daniel Hillier has taken a two-shot lead over Ryan Fox following an impressive third round of 66 in blustery and wet conditions at Autex Muriwai Open, sitting at 19-under for the tournament with a day to play.
The scene is now set for an epic shootout between Hillier and Fox in the final round on Sunday as part of the Jennian Homes Charles Tour.
Hillier got out of the gates quickly making birdies in his opening two holes on Saturday. After a string of three pars, he picked up another birdie at the sixth and made the turn at 3-under for the day and tied Fox for the lead.
The 22-year-old then put some distance between himself and the rest of the field with birdies at the 11th, 12th, and 13th holes to get to 6-under for the day. He made a bogey at the par-five 14th but got another shot back up the last to take a two-shot lead going into the final round.
“I got off to a really steady start and the conditions started to hit on the back nine,” Hillier said after the round.
“I grinded out the hard holes and made a few birdies coming home. The birdie up the last was a nice way to finish.”
Defending James Hydes is making his way up the leaderboard and into the final group, just four shots back from Fox.
Despite the pair separating themselves from the field, Hillier said he’ll try and not play tomorrow as a match play with Fox.
“Personally, I’m going to execute my own game plan I’ve had all week and hopefully if I do that tomorrow I’ll come out on top.
“Obviously Foxy is going to bring it to me tomorrow and I’m looking forward to the battle on my hands,” Hillier smiled.
He also said being in a position to win his fourth Jennian Homes Charles Tour event after a long stint overseas is good validation his game is trending in the right direction.
“It’ll be really special to win my fourth title. Especially after a long time away from home and to come back and play well is really special to me already and I haven’t won here at Muriwai yet. I’m really looking forward to the challenge tomorrow.
“It’s been great playing over here on a world-class track and that gives me a lot of confidence before I head overseas to play on the Challenge Tour again.”
Hillier won’t have it his own way if Fox can have his say.
Fox has carded a third round of 68 to get to 17-under for the tournament after rounds of 65 and 66 in the opening two rounds.
Like Hillier, Fox opened his day with birdies at the second and third holes and took the lead with a birdie at the fourth to poke his nose in front.
He’d bogey the par-five 6th hole to fall a shot behind but picked that right back up the next hole with another birdie and be tied with Hillier going into the back nine.
The bad weather hit as soon as they made the turn and Fox made seven pars in a row before making a two at the short par three 17th. He parred the last and trails Hillier going into the final round in his quest for back-to-back Jennian Homes Charles Tour titles.
“It was a little bit like The Open out there today I guess, it’s probably about 15 degrees warmer which helps,” Fox said.
“Today was all about keeping the ball in play and the front nine was pretty scorable. The rain came pretty early into our back nine and from then it was about hanging on and not making too many mistakes.”
His goal tomorrow is to stick to the game plan both he and caddy Steve Williams have put together and try to put some pressure on Hillier tomorrow.
Defending champion James Hydes will look to come from six back to defend his title and is the third player in the final group tomorrow.
Leaderboard Day 3
1 Daniel HILLIER -19 64 67 66 197
2 Ryan FOX -17 65 66 68 199
3 James HYDES -13 68 69 66 203
T4 Ben CAMPBELL -11 68 70 67 205
T4 Kieran MUIR -11 66 68 71 205