Golf 2.12.2016 07:34 pm

Stone’s last-ditch heroics lights up Leopard Creek

Brandon Stone carded a brilliant 66 to take the lead after two rounds at Leopard Creek. Photo: Petri Oeschger/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images

Brandon Stone carded a brilliant 66 to take the lead after two rounds at Leopard Creek. Photo: Petri Oeschger/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images

23-year-old snatches lead in Alfred Dunhill Championship with dramatic eagle on a day of late twists and turns.

Charl Schwartzel will be defending his Alfred Dunhill Championship title from a trio of fellow South Africans over the weekend as Brandon Stone snatched the lead from him with an eagle on the last hole.

George Coetzee and Keith Horne also came roaring up the leaderboard on a dramatic second day at Leopard Creek on Friday.

Stone finished the second round on 11-under-par after he completed a brilliant six-under-par 66 on Friday by rolling in an eight-foot eagle putt on the last after a superb six-iron approach from 195 yards.

That pipped Schwartzel for a lead which the four-time champion had held since the morning, after he shot a solid four-under-par 68 to go to 10-under for the tournament.

England’s Chris Hanson will be the one foreigner strongly in the mix as he also reached the halfway stage on 10-under-par, following a marvellous seven-under 65 on Friday.

Coetzee was on nine-under following his 65, which featured an incredibly fast finish as he started on the 10th, reached the turn in one-under 36 and then came home in a stunning 29 strokes, birdieing five of the first six holes on the front nine and then the ninth for good measure.

Horne shot a spectacular nine birdies, but three bogeys meant he signed for a 66 and nine-under-par overall.

Stone will be hoping a troublesome back clears up overnight, having struggled with it all day. But he saved his best for last with his wonderful eagle on the 18th.

“I’m very happy to shoot a 66 because when I woke up my back was quite sore and it felt bad the whole day. I really tweaked it on the eighth when I went way right off the tee, but my trainer gave me good treatment and by the 11th I could swing again.

“But 18 was the last drive I had in me and it turned out to be my best of the day, leaving me with the exact same yardage as for my eagle on 13 in the first round,” Stone said.

The 23-year-old Stone was only in junior school when Schwartzel won the first of his four Alfred Dunhill Championships in 2004, but the SA Open champion is looking forward to duelling with the Leopard Creek King over the weekend.

“Charl is an incredible player and he certainly seems to like this place, but so do I and hopefully we’re drawn together and can compete over the weekend. I will try and keep up, try and maintain my one-shot lead. I feel very comfortable on every hole here and I really enjoy the greens too,” Stone said.

For most of the day, Schwartzel looked in control of the tournament, until the last hour brought a blaze of birdies from Stone, Hanson and Horne.

South Africa’s second-ranked golfer was in fine form from the start, birdieing the first, fourth and fifth holes, before his first blemish in 43 holes at Leopard Creek.

And Schwartzel made it a double-bogey as he stood on the tee at the 197-metre par-three seventh and decided to take on the risky flag, but his poor shot landed in the hazard.

But the 2011 Masters champion settled himself down with two more pars before the turn, and then collected three more birdies coming in, signing for a 68 – his 40th sub-par round in 44 trips around Leopard Creek.

Speaking in the morning before all the late drama, Schwartzel was content to be in a strong position.

“To be 10-under after two rounds, you’d happily take that at the start of the week. I played decent golf and made some really good putts, but hopefully I’ll create more opportunities over the weekend and that will make it easier.

“But there are so many good players and it’s only the second round, there are so many good scores still out there. It’s exciting to have a lot of South Africans up there, that’s what people want to see and it makes it a good wrestle,” Schwartzel said.

Thomas Aiken, Branden Grace and Jean Hugo are the other South Africans in position to contend over the weekend, sharing sixth place on eight-under-par with Sweden’s Alexander Bjork and Frenchman Benjamin Hebert.

Grace started on the back nine and was in fine form with four birdies going out, but his putter again went cold and he limped into the clubhouse with just one more birdie, although a bogey-free 67 was still a good effort.

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