Three-time champion Charl Schwartzel has shown his hand as the Alfred Dunhill Championship heads into the weekend, storming into a five-stroke lead after the second round of the co-sanctioned European/Sunshine Tour event at Leopard Creek.
Schwartzel began the day having to complete the 18th hole of his first round following a weather delay and duly notched his eighth birdie of the opening round in a six-under-par 66, leaving him two behind leader Christiaan Basson. Less than an hour later, he was out on the course again, teeing off on the 10th hole and two birdies in his first three holes immediately saw him catch up with his compatriot.
Schwartzel went on to post a five-under-par 67 for 11-under overall, birdieing the par-five 18th for the second time in the morning, once again laying up before attempting the daunting shot to the island green, and followed up with another birdie on the par-four first hole and further gains on the par-four sixth and ninth holes.
His only setback came on the par-three seventh when a poor putt led to a bogey.
Spain’s Pablo Martin, who won the Alfred Dunhill Championship in 2009 and 2010, is in a tie for second, five strokes behind Schwartzel, alongside another former champion in Richard Sterne, Frenchman Benjamin Hebert and Joost Luiten of the Netherlands.
Martin and Schwartzel, the most successful golfers at Leopard Creek with five titles between them, will be together in a tantalising final two-ball on Saturday.
Basson, the overnight leader after his brilliant 64 in the first round, slumped to a 76 on Friday and is in a tie for ninth, seven strokes off the pace. The two golfers who were in a tie for third, Mark Williams and Matt Ford, also failed to make any headway in the second round.
Zimbabwean Williams could only post a level-par 72 after a roller-coaster day that featured three bogeys, a double-bogey and five birdies, staying on five-under-par overall, while Englishman Ford would have been in reasonable shape were it not for a triple-bogey seven at the par-four 14th, which left him with a 74 for three-under-par.
Schwartzel’s only complaint on a much cooler day in Malelane was that too many of his putts are still not going in the hole.
“Although my putts are not going in the hole as often as I’d like, it definitely feels as if there is some improvement. Recently I’ve been going through stages where I hit putts that miss as soon as they come off the blade. At least now it looks good until it gets to the hole and then misses. It’s a step in the right direction, at least I’m hitting putts that are scaring the hole and I know it’s just a matter of time before they start going in,” Schwartzel said.
The 31-year-old’s excellent round was a marriage between superb ball-striking and pragmatism, as demonstrated on both occasions he played the 18th hole on Friday, laying up twice before securing birdies.
“On 18 in the second round I only had a nine-iron into the green, but I had such bad mud on the ball that I decided to lay up. My sand wedge moved about 20 metres through the air and there was still mud on the ball when it landed. But I’m being a bit more patient and just trusting my game, which is why I laid up and still made birdie,” Schwartzel said.
Sterne, the 2008 champion, shot a two-under-par 70 on Friday and said he is going to have to go lower over the weekend to have any chance of winning.
“Any time you’re five off the lead after two rounds is not the end of the world, but I’m going to have to do something quite low over the weekend in order to win. I think you’ve got to look at probably 17-under,” Sterne said.
Louis Oosthuizen, the highest ranked golfer in the field, is not going to be playing on the weekend after he shot a 76 on Friday for two-over-par overall, missing the cut by two strokes.
The world number 15 started with a bogey on the par-four first hole and then had a disastrous eight on the par-three seventh hole, twice chipping into the water from a greenside bunker. He gave himself a chance of making the cut with birdies on the 10th and 12th holes, but then started to be wayward off the tee, leading to bogeys on the 13th and 14th holes. Birdies on the par-five 15th and on the 17th cancelled those out, but he could only par the par-five 18th, after his approach found the greenside bunker, to end his tournament.
Branden Grace will be around over the weekend but is going to have to do something spectacular to defend his crown after a one-over-par 73 on Friday left him on level-par overall.