New South Wales professional Austin Bautista (pictured) and adopted New Zealander Peter Fowler share the early lead after the first round of the Rebel Sport NZ Masters at Wainui Golf Club.

Both Bautista and Fowler shot impressive rounds of five-under 66 on a course that has been unforgiving to others in the field. Bautista, in just his second year as a professional, found the course to his liking while posting his early lead.

“It was a good round, I prepared well and the course suits my eye, I like the way it looks,” said Bautista, who made just one bogey for the round, coming on the 17th hole.

“This course is a shaper’s course. You’ve got to be able to work it both ways; you never get a dead straight shot off the tee especially on the back nine with those back-to-back par-5s (13th and 14th holes). You’re hitting cut, cut and then you go to the next hole and it’s hook, hook. So you’ve got to be able to do both.”

Bautista credited his management of the course and a patient putting game for his early lead in the tournament.

“I putted well, I didn’t make a lot of long putts but I definitely stuck it close to about 10 feet and when I got my opportunities I took them,” he said. “I’ll stick to my game plan with the things I’m doing right and the things I didn’t do properly, I’ll obviously be trying to improve them.

“I’m here to win but so is everybody else, so I want to play better tomorrow and keep going.”

A dominant force in the senior’s game, Fowler finished third on the Staysure Tour (formerly the European Seniors Tour) in 2017, but is proving once again he still has what it takes to compete with his juniors.

“To score that in the first couple of weeks of the year is very pleasing. Most of us I don’t think we’ve done much practice. I know I certainly haven’t. It was a nice fresh morning and I think we got the best of it today,” said Fowler, who opened his round at Wainui with a birdie.

“I drove the ball well; hit a lot of great iron shots and my putting today was the best it’s been in the past 12 months so I’m pretty happy.”

Given the dry weather New Zealand has endured recently, the course this week is playing hard and fast.

“It’s particularly tricky with the bounces; if you’re a little bit off you can pay a big penalty here off the dry turf. I was lucky enough to land on a lot of the greens,” Fowler added.

When asked how he’d look in the black jacket on offer this week, Fowler said he’d have no trouble slipping it on in his adopted country.

“I’d have no problem with that, mate. I got my New Zealand citizenship so I could win a game of rugby,” Fowler joked.

Daniel Pearce was the standout performer in the afternoon field. He narrowly missed a birdie chance on the 18th hole but finds himself in outright third after shooting a four-under 67. It’s a simple game-plan for the 2017 Coca-Cola Queensland PGA champion this week at Wainui.

“I played solid all day, really. I hit the ball quite nicely and just tried to roll in a few putts,” Pearce said. “I’m playing ‘aggressive conservative’ golf this week, I guess you could call it: I’m hitting a lot of irons off tees. I think I only hit two, maybe three drivers. I’m just trying to get into a position to give myself a shot at the green.”

New Zealand’s Michael Hendry, Brad Shilton, Nick Coxon, Campbell Rawson and New South Welshman Ruben Sondjaja are all three shots off the pace after shooting two-under 69s.