Auckland product Kit Bittle leads a group of four Kiwis inside the top six following Round 3 of Final Stage of the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Qualifying School at Moonah Links in Victoria.
With playing categories on the line for the 2023/2024 season for the top 30 and ties, higher finishing positions bring with them enhanced opportunities of earning a start in the biggest events of the summer.
A graduate of the 2022 Q School, Bittle (70, pictured) made headlines this past season when he won a BMW iX xDrive40 worth $140,000 for a hole-in-one at TPS Murray River and is now tied with Queensland’s Chris Crabtree (71) at nine-under in a share of the lead.
Outstanding New Zealand amateur Kazuma Kobori (69) is in outright third position at eight-under par, Victorian Ben Eccles (70) is fourth at seven-under with another Kiwi, Sung Jin Yeo (64) posting the round of the day to sit in solo fifth.
A fourth Kiwi, Rhys Thomas (71), is in a tie for sixth with three South Australians in Lachlan Barker (67), Liam Georgiadis (65) and Jak Carter (73) and New South Welshman Lucas Higgins (72).
Besides his hole-in-one heroics at Cobram Barooga, Bittle was a consistent performer across the 2022/2023 season.
He made 10 of 16 cuts but with a best finish of a tie for 12th at the New Zealand PGA Championship, did not accrue enough points to finish inside the top 50 on the Order of Merit, his 62nd-placing necessitating a return to Q School.
His co-leader has done a remarkable job to put himself in contention to win on Friday given the way he started the tournament.
In the final group off the first tee on Tuesday, Crabtree opened with a quadruple-bogey eight on the Moonah Links Open Course.
The first of 16 birdies in the following 53 holes came at the next hole and he has eagled the 374-metre par-4 14th twice in three rounds.
In contention for much of the New Zealand Open at Millbrook, Kobori made double bogey on two but eagle on 15 in his round of two-under 70 as NZ PGA runner-up Sung Jin Yeo kept a clean sheet, picking off eight birdies in his round of eight-under 64.
First groups are out at 7.40am on Friday with the group of Bittle, Crabtree and Kobori to tee off from the first hole at 9.30am.