Top Wanganui golfer Simon Owen is to make a rare appearance at the New Zealand PGA later this month.
Owen was invited to the centennial championship at The Hills course in Queenstown this year as a former winner of the event and it will be his first appearance at the professional event in several years.
Owen won the New Zealand Open as a youngster in 1978, the same year as his epic duel with Jack Nicklaus in the British Open, where he finished runner-up.
This year's event has attracted the country's best golfers.
"Because it's the centenary I will be going as an invited past winner," Owen said.
Until the last couple of years Owen, who now lives at Kinloch, was a regular on the European senior circuit.
"I quit the European Senior Tour two seasons back and don't play much golf these days. The last serious tournament I played at I think was in the Wanganui Pro-am back in September. I played okay with a first round 69 and then a 75. I think I finished about 18th," Owen said.
"And then I didn't lift a club until New Year's Eve at Wairakei where I shot a 68, which surprised me. I know it sounds pretty silly but after all these years of golf I almost feel like I've mastered the game. The challenge is certainly not the same these days. I'm still hitting the ball well, though
"I'm looking forward to the New Zealand PGA. I know the course having played at The Hills in the past. I'm going into it with no expectations. It's just great to be invited."
Meanwhile, Michael Hendry is returning to defend his title at The Hills. Hendry had a fantastic 2012, going on to win another three titles after his victory in Queenstown as well as racking up a number of top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour of Australasia and the OneAsia tour.
Another two Kiwi former champions will join Hendry and Owen in the field.
The 2009 winner, Steven Alker, is back after missing the event in 2012. Last year, he showed how good he is with a top-20 finish at The British Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes.
And the 1984 champion, Greg Turner, is also back to have a crack at the title.
Last year's runner-up and former European Tour winner, Mark Brown, will be looking to go one better this year.
Other top touring Kiwis who will play this year include David Smail, Ryan Fox, Gareth Paddison, Josh Geary, Brad Shilton and Richard Lee, as well as Perth-based Michael Long.
Throw in Phil Tataurangi, who continues to ply his trade at home during a self-imposed hiatus from the American tournament scene, and Australian Peter Fowler, who many deem to be an honorary Kiwi having lived in Auckland for two decades, and there is reason to be optimistic of a winner from New Zealand.
The New Zealand PGA is on from February 28 to March 3 at The Hills at Queenstown.