Fiji International: Ben Campbell leads by four strokes after birdie blitz
AVID deer hunter Ben Campbell has turned his attention to stalking birdies at the Fiji International where he holds a commanding lead heading into the weekend at Natadola Bay.
GREG DAVIS at Natadola Bay, FijiThe Courier-MailAugust 3, 20185:00pm
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IN New Zealand, Ben Campbell hunts for deer. In Fiji, he has a trophy firmly in his cross-hairs and further proof that 2018 is the breakout year for the rising Kiwi.
Campbell will take a four-shot lead into Saturday’s third round of the Fiji International after stalking Natadola Bay with intent on Friday when he reeled off seven birdies.
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The 26-year-old finished the second round at 11-under the card after collecting 14 birdies across the first two days. The chasing pack is led by the Australian trio of Andrew Dodt (seven-under), Jarryd Felton (six-under) and Terry Pilkadaris (six-under).
New Zealand’s Harry Bateman and Nick Voke, China’s Ashun Wu, 2014 Australian Masters winner Nick Cullen, 2014 Fiji International champion Steve Jeffress, India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar and Queensland’s Jake McLeod are a shot further back at five-under.
Campbell and the other contenders will be joined on the weekend by co-headliners Vijay Singh and Ernie Els who flirted with the cut line.
Singh missed a short putt on his last hole to finish at four-over to just squeeze into the weekend by one shot.
“I’m happy with the way I played, very disappointed with the little putt I missed on the last hole, but hopefully four-over is going to be good enough. If it’s not, then so be it,’’ Singh said after his morning round.
Meanwhile, Els blew out to three-over after nine holes but went birdie-eagle-birdie to start the back nine and finished at two-under at the halfway point.
Pre-tournament favourite Scott Hend had no such luck, carding a seven-over 79 to finish at 12-over for the tournament.
Campbell – the 2018 New Zealand PGA winner — made the most of the benign conditions in the morning as the brutal wind that ravaged most of the field late on Thursday, dropped and changed direction.
Campbell is no stranger to the top of the leaderboard. He led for most of the 2017 New Zealand Open before finishing in a tie for second.
He was also runner-up at the 2017 New Zealand PGA tournament and this year’s Bangladesh Open on the Asian Tour. He is also no stranger to playing in the wind as he hails from Masterton near Wellington — the same hometown as Kiwi golf icon Sir Bob Charles.
He said he felt like he was closing in on some good golf heading into the tournament.
“In Asia, I think I had about three or four 20ths in a row and I was getting pretty frustrated because it felt like I should have been right up challenging the leader in that,’’ he said.
“I think just what I kind of did yesterday, I just chipped and putted. When you miss the green, I always seem to get up and down, which keeps the momentum going, so I think that’s a big key … just feel a lot more comfortable out here.”
He said being in contention on a regular basis in recent times would be invaluable this weekend.
“Yeah, definitely. Like last year at New Zealand Open as well, I had a good lead and things like that. So you just learn from those, I think,’’ he said. “It doesn’t really bother me too much anymore. I think, you know, you end up feeling a bit more comfortable being there.
“(Winning the Fiji International) would be about the biggest one that I have, but there’s obviously a long way to go there. I think the easy part’s done, it’s the tough part now to keep going.’’
Away from the pressures of trying to build his surging golf career, which was stalled by a mystery illness at the start of 2017, Campbell enjoys heading out into the wilderness.
A relaxed Campbell said his love of hunting had helped his game.
“To me it’s just like you get in the wild, it’s not about kind of shooting anything,” he said.
“I just go hunting and a few things like that where you’re just kind of up in the middle of nowhere and it’s so quiet.
“I think when you’ve been traveling all the time and things like that where everything’s so busy and you’re just out in the middle of nowhere with just a couple of mates and just chilling out, kind of good just to get away from it really, which I think’s important.
“Keeps you fresh and then you want to come and play golf.’’
Queenslander Maverick Antcliff raced to nine-under after six birdies in his first nine holes of the day but a triple bogey sucked all the momentum out of his round.
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Originally published as Tearaway leader on birdie hunt