Jean Hugo came roaring into the kind of form which has made him the most successful player in the series as he carded a nine-under-par 63 to take the second-round lead of the Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Langebaan Golf and Country Estate.
After a tough opening round of level-par 72 in cold, windy and rainy conditions, he played flawless golf – particularly on the back nine – to give himself a one-stroke edge over Attie Schwartzel ahead of the final round of the R600,000 tournament.
Hugo, who has won seven times on the Vodacom Origins of Golf series, has had a quiet year by his exalted standards with just four top-10 finishes to show for his efforts, but whatever struggles he was having were erased as he covered the back nine in a startling six-under-par 30.
“I putted quite well,” he said in his normal laconic way, “but still, you have to keep it in the fairways because that makes the approach shots much easier. All in all, I had a good day, but I putted especially well.”
While some of the players opted to use their drivers to try and overwhelm the 6,359-metre Langebaan track – that’s not overly long – Hugo used his sparingly, and it paid off. “It’s all about position on these on these holes,” he said. “Some of them are downwind and most of them are crosswind, and it’s about what you want to have on your second.”
And on that decision hinged the change in fortunes for him: “I think I’ve just been making the wrong decisions out there, attacking when I shouldn’t and playing defensively when I shouldn’t. But it’s always a learning curve in this game,” said Hugo.
Schwartzel, who was fighting the effects of a painful abscess in his mouth, followed up his opening 69 with a solid five-under-par 67 to keep him in the hunt for what would be his maiden Sunshine Tour victory – he has won on the Sunshine Big Easy Tour.
His round included a single bogey – on the first after he had started his round on the 10th – but he didn’t deviate from his task as he racked up six birdies. “The first day we were just trying to make pars in the bad weather, while today you felt like you could really go for the birdies,” he said.
Behind Schwartzel, Heinrich Bruiners – the winner of the last Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Euphoria two weeks ago – and Andrew Curlewis finished at five-under-par after the second round.
That may be four back from Hugo, but chasing him is a task Bruiners is relishing. “I spent the final few holes today protecting my score, but tomorrow I’m going to be firing at the flags,” he said.
And Curlewis could have finished higher up the leaderboard but for a poor piece of fortune. His tee shot on the first – his 10th – finished in a tree. “It was too thorny to try and climb to take a shot at it,” he said, “so I had to take a drop and I made my only bogey of the day there.”
So, while Hugo clearly has the bit between his teeth, there will be no lack of will amongst his pursuers. But they would do well to listen to Schwartzel’s evaluation of their chances: “Jean will be tough to catch.”