For a while on the opening nine of the Glendower Golf Club on Friday, Charl Schwartzel looked as if he was going to seal the deal for his first South African Open Championship.
In the end, three bogeys on his homeward nine slowed him down, and his seven-under-par 65 saw him reach the halfway mark of the tournament in a share of the lead at 12-under-par with Italy’s Marco Crespi.
His opening salvo was blistering: He made birdies on his first three holes, and another on the fifth, before an eagle three on eight saw him surge to 11-under-par and just one behind Crespi who had completed his round in the morning. Another birdie on nine saw him draw level and he seemed destined to race clear unchallenged – and unchallengeable as he turned in seven-under-par 29.
“It was great to turn in that low number and get my name up the board very quickly,” he said. “I didn’t really get ahead of myself. I thought if I could stick to the plan and shoot two- or three-under around the back nine then that would have been ideal for me.”
But a three-putt on the 10th – from relatively short range, too – stopped the charge in its tracks. Then he dumped his approach on 13 into the water and had to settle for bogey there too. On the par-three 17th, he missed the green, and two putts saw him make his third bogey.
But he had made three birdies in a row from 14 to 16 to move for a moment into the outright lead, and, in the end, was pleased with his performance: He had hit the fairways more consistently in his second round, and his putting – bar the poor effort on 10 – was deadly with 26 putts in his second round compared to 27 in the first.
“The front nine I hit the ball fantastically and hit it close. I rolled in quite a lot of putts,” he said. “The greens are so good that if you read the lines right and start it on line then they’ll go in. I’ve been putting well for a long time and I’m excited to putt on these greens. It showed, because I converted all of those iron shots that I hit close.”
Schwartzel and Crespi take a one-stroke edge over Morten Orum Madsen of Denmark into the weekend, with Christiaan Basson, who recovered from a double bogey on 17 – on his opening nine – to post a fine 68, a further shot back on 10-under-par.
Jbe’ Kruger and England’s James Morrison shared fifth on nine-under.
Also poised well are Ulrich van den Berg and James Kamte on eight-under-par: They have each won the BMG Classic at Glendower recently – Van den Berg in October and Kamte in 2011. They both like the course and they both know how to play well on it.
They are all in with a shout over the weekend, as Schwartzel knows only too well. “It’s only half way. I’ve got to head out and keep going,” he said. “This field has lots of guys that still have a chance. You’ve got to keep going and keep making birdies, then the win will take care of itself.”