Pre-tournament hopes rested on European Tour professional Ryan Fox for a home win at the ISPA HANDA New Zealand Open, but it was Ben Campbell who stole the show at the end of the first round in Queenstown.

Campbell, who now resides in the lakes district after a year plagued by a mystery illness that left him questioning whether he would ever play golf competitively again, produced a blistering finish for a 10 under 61 at Millbrook Resort.

He came home with an eagle-birdie-birdie finish, putting from near the fringe on Millbrook's picturesque 18th green to put an exclamation mark on an outstanding performance.

The 25-year-old leads the NZ$1million Tier One tournament by two shots from 2014 NZ Open winner Dimitrios Papadatos, from Australia, who had six birdies and an eagle for an 8 under 63 at the par 71 Millbrook Resort and Kiwi Brad Shilton, who was the best of the field at the neighbouring par 72 The Hills course with an 8 under 64.

It was Campbell's lowest-ever tournament score, with a lone bogey the only blemish on a card which included nine birdies and an eagle.

"I played pretty solid out there, especially the back nine where I had 28, which is a first for me, breaking 30. I played well the front nine and didn't really get anything out of it. I bounced back well and just got it rolling, which was nice," Campbell said.

Campbell is based at the Millbrook course and knows it well, but he also knows hardship having recovered from a still-undiagnosed illness which saw him miss 2016, instead caddying for John Key at last year's tournament.

The support of sponsors, family, coach John Griffin and medical treatment from Neki Patel and Rebecca Whyte had helped him get back on course.

"It was a very tough two years when I thought I might never play golf again. It's good to be playing and obviously getting off to a great start like this is always nice. I've been so lucky to have the people around me that I have, which has been pretty amazing - friends and family, sponsors that have kept your spirits high, which is pretty important to have."

Fox is still handily placed after carding a 4 under 68 at The Hills course and will be hungrily eyeing the more driveable Millbrook course during the second round.

"It was really solid. I had two bad shots all day - I got away with one of them and unfortunately made a bogey with the other one.

"I hit lots of nice shots out there, probably left a couple out there on the green, but I've always tended to struggle a bit with reading the greens around The Hills," Fox, who played alongside All Black father Grant and had world-renowned caddy Steve Williams on his bag for the first time, said.

"As the cliche goes, you can't win the tournament in the first round, but you can play your way out of it so I'm pretty happy with where I'm sitting."

A New Zealander hasn't won the NZ Open since Mahal Pearce triumphed 14 long years ago, but with Michael Hendry and Josh Geary ending the day at 7 under, there are four Kiwis inside the top nine after the first round.

Hendry and Geary were tied for fourth with Australians Scott Barr, Deyen Lawson and Brad Kennedy, and Indonesia's Danny Masrin.