Stuart Duff didn't waste time endorsing the faith the national selectors have placed in him by setting the pace in an elite field of amateurs in Christchurch yesterday.

Duff carded a one-under par 71 in the opening round of the New Zealand Masters Open Championship at the Christchurch Golf Club.

The 55-year-old was the only player in the field of 99 to shoot under par on the 6422m course - par 35 on the front nine and 37 on the back.

Duff negotiated the course with aplomb as the field, punctuated by Australian national representatives and the odd Canadian and British amateur, tried to keep up with him.

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The Lindisfarne College schoolteacher will make his debut in the 12-member New Zealand Masters team to play Australia at the same venue on Monday and Tuesday.

Duff will make his debut with Bob Shirley, of Kaitaia, after the pair qualified by age for the annual Sanctuary Cove Trophy clash next week.

"In his text to me today, after shooting 71, Stu said to me that the greens were super quick," said Hastings PGA professional Brian Doyle last night.

He revealed Duff had jetted down south on Wednesday and had a practice round before competing yesterday.

"He had to be super-defensive on the greens, is what he texted to me, but I don't quite know what that means, although he's playing the course very nicely," said Doyle who mentors Duff regularly and helped him tweak a few things the player wasn't happy about last week.

He said the 10-time Hastings Golf Club men's open champion had a penchant to play to his strengths.

Duff, who won the Ohope Open for the fourth time just before Christmas, describes himself as a steady player who follows the simple edict of keeping the ball in the straight and narrow.

But Doyle said his potency was his tactical nous.

"He's very flexible for the 50 whatever he is nowadays but he's very passionate about the game and works really hard at it, I must say, and he seems to mature like good red wine as he gets a little bit older.

"I feel like he plays a lot better now than when he was playing in my Hawke's Bay amateur team and captained it."

Doyle wasn't surprised to find Duff on the top of the leaderboard because one of his greatest attributes, without a doubt, was the plus-two handicapper's tempo and rhythm.

"He's got that, whereas, at times, the younger players tend to get a little excited.

"But he's got that old head and his rhythm and tempo are just superb."

Doyle said a glance at the field revealed the talent pool but the four-to-eight-over scores in the middle reflected how difficult the course and conditions might be.

"It's no mean feat that he's the only one who is under par."

The course beckons with double greens, pockmarked with pot bunkers in approaches.

Defending champion and Duff's national seniors teammate, Brent Paterson (Royal Auckland), was a shot behind on par for the course.

Paterson won the crown by six shots at the Ohope Golf Club last year, reeling in Omanu's Andries Cloetes, who was three strokes in front, in a final round that included five birdies.

Cloetes took out the 50-54 category, Paterson the 55-59, John Batley the 60-64, Hugh Harrison, of Ongaonga, the 65-69 one and Stu Reid claimed the 70+ title.

Anthony Chettleburgh (Feilding) was third yesterday on one-over 73 while Craig Newman (Nelson) was fourth on two-over par.

Harrison was on 49th equal position with a nine-over 81 while Duff's Hastings clubmate, Paul Clothier, was a shot behind.

■Doyle revealed he had received texts from Kiwi professional Ryan Fox and his father/former All Black Grant Fox after the former claimed a career-best finish of third equal (-18) on the European Tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Monday.

"I text Ryan a congratulatory text and I got one back from him straight away, thanking me while the tournament was still being played - although he had finished.

"I sent another text to Grant telling him about how Ryan had replied and that was classy. I got a reply from Grant saying Ryan gets that from his mother," Doyle said of Ryan Fox whom he coached and billeted at his home for almost four years before Fox turned professional.