Killarney Country Club once again put the Sunshine Tour’s top pros through the mill on Thursday, with only four golfers able to enjoy the comfort of being under par after the second round of the Betway Championship, the opening event of the Rise Up Series that marks the return to action for domestic golf after the Covid-19 lockdown.
Top of the pile was Sunshine Tour veteran Alex Haindl, who shot a marvellous 67 to go into the final round on three-under-par, one stroke ahead of another stalwart in Anton Haig.
Two other very experienced campaigners – Ulrich van den Berg and Adilson da Silva – were also under par, with both finishing on one-under after shooting 69s.
Although conditions were warmer and there was just a comfortable breeze blowing, the 103-man field once again struggled with the hard and fast greens, putting a premium on accuracy off the tee on the tight, tree-lined layout.
Haindl, rebuilding his career after a couple of back surgeries, was relieved to be playing well in his 20th season on the Sunshine Tour.
“It’s just nice to be playing again,” Haindl said after his round, which included a solitary dropped shot at the par-three 17th.
“You don’t know where your game is when you’re just practising at home because you’re not under the gun and you can’t see where your game needs to be better.
“Since my last surgery, last year, it just felt like I couldn’t get going. I wasn’t moving the way I like, but today was a bit better.”
The youngsters who were used to bombing the ball miles off the tee seemed to be losing this particular race, given the veterans in the top four, but there were some fresh faces very much in contention to claim the first Sunshine Tour title on offer since the sport was suspended under the national lockdown.
Rookie Ruan Korb was just three strokes back on level-par, while former amateur sensation Jayden Schaper showed once again that he had the mettle (despite still being in his teens) to mix it with the men as he lay in a threatening position four strokes back after solid rounds of 73 and 68.
Keith Horne was with him on one-over-par and he clearly had all the weapons to win on Friday, having claimed nine Sunshine Tour titles.
First-round leader Dylan Mostert, meanwhile, slipped back into a tie for ninth after a 75, and he was five shots adrift of the lead.
Haindl said patience and accuracy off the tee would be key attributes to securing victory.
“The par-fives are quite important but it’s very difficult to stop your second shot on the green, so there are no gimmies,” he said.
“If you drive decently then you can have a lot of wedges coming in, so if you’re swinging okay then you can give yourself a few chances, but it’s very tough. You need to stay patient and accept the outcome if you’ve done your best, if you had a good yardage and a good swing.
“My game-plan was pretty decent. I kept it in play most of the time and gave myself chances.”