While he acknowledges playing as well as he did last year when he won the Alfred Dunhill Championship by 12 strokes is difficult to do, Charl Schwartzel was still not entirely satisfied on Friday with his second consecutive 68 at Leopard Creek in this year’s tournament.
His eight-under-par total gave him a share of the halfway lead with Dane Morten Orum Madsen, who battled round the course for his one-under-par 71, while Ross Fisher of England and another Dane, Soren Hansen, shared third on seven-under-par.
“Last year was quite a high standard,” said Schwartzel, “but I must say the course is playing more difficult, and there were some pin positions that were really iffy. I thought 13 and 14 in particular. The pins are always around those areas, but I think time they’ve just gone a little bit too close to the limit. Two or three feet away from the slope would have still been a very difficult flag, but very fair.”
An indication of how tough some of the hole locations were came on the par-three 12th, where he putted 180 degrees away from the hole that was in front of him down the slope, let the ball catch the fringe and roll back down a ridge towards the hole – and he almost holed that for birdie!
“That was just from experience,” he said. “I’ve seen that it is possible if you hit it almost backwards and up the hill to the fringe. There’s a slope right by the hole that it catches and comes back. A little bit of experience helps now and again.
“You could say I pushed it a bit right,” he laughed.
It was a Schwartzel who managed his way around the course without dropping a shot, and it was that which gave him the share of the lead. “I was uncomfortable out there,” he said. “Towards the end I hit the ball a little bit better, but in the beginning I wasn’t very comfortable with the whole thing.
“You just adapt a little bit and hit slightly different lines. They’re not necessarily going to give you birdies, but they also keep the bogeys off the card. If I can feel a bit more comfortable then I’ll hit more aggressive lines then I might make a few more birdies.”
Two players who made plenty of birdies were Fisher and Hansen. Fisher went round in the morning for his seven-under-par 65, while Hansen’s identical score came in the afternoon. Hansen, who was out for 13 months with injury, revelled in his first visit to Leopard Creek and made eight birdies and a bogey.
Behind that pair were Tyrone van Aswegen and Richard Finch on six-under, while young Michael Hollick found himself in a share of seventh with Romain Wattel and Victor Riu of France, Sihwan Kim of Korea and Englishman Danny Willett.
With Schwartzel’s love for the course, and his intimate knowledge of it, their task in chasing him down will be tough. “It’s just one of those course where the targets I look at are all in the right places,” he said, “and also, I’ve got comfortable on these greens.”