Steven Alker has made a strong return to the New Zealand Open after a three-year absence to be in fourth place with a second round five-under par 67 at The Hills in Queenstown today.
The 44-year-old Arizona-based Hamiltonian is the best performing New Zealander, at six under with two days remaining in the tournament. Peter Smith is the next best Kiwi sitting in a tie for 10th after carding two under 69 to be four under overall.
Back-to-back birdies gave Alker an ideal start through the back nine with four more through the front half helping his cause, before a solitary bogey on the eighth hole.
"It was freezing this morning so it took a couple of holes to get going," said Alker. "But once I hit 13 or 14 it stretched through there and I started playing really nicely.
"I made a few more putts today and I think that was the difference. A nice day tomorrow and we'll be in the thick of it."
However, Japan's Hideto Tanihara and Australian's Matthew Griffin and Deyen Lawson are setting the standard and share the lead at eight under par total.
Tanihara hit five-under 66 at Millbrook, while Griffin and the late charging Lawson achieved seven-under 65 at The Hills.
Starting on Millbrook's back nine, Tanihara started nicely with two birdies with a bogey on the 14th his only stumble of the day. Two more birdies on the 18th and first helped his momentum and another pair on the sixth and seventh provide a strong finish. Lawson was flawless and made two birdies through the back nine before adding another five - including the last three holes - to stamp his mark.
Griffin opened with a birdie on the ninth but followed up with his only bogey on the 10th. Two more birdies on the 13th and 16th helped matters and eagles on the 17 and first provided real momentum, before another birdie on the fourth.
"When I can get myself into contention, I usually play well," said Griffin. "Hopefully I won't be too far away going into tomorrow, if not leading, and give myself a chance going into the weekend."
Meanwhile, overnight leader Steven Jones dropped down to be tied for 40th at one under with tournament favourite Ryan Fox, and day one stand-out Manawatu rookie Joshua Munn is now tied for 24th.
Playing at The Hills, Fox made par throughout the opening nine and bogeyed the 12th, while his only two birdies were split by a double bogey on the 16th, leaving him with some work to do on day three.