Lee held a share of the lead after shooting a seven-under-par 65 on the East Course in the opening round and, after an intriguing day in Johannesburg’s eastern suburbs, he was still at the top after adding a 67 on the West Course on Friday, although now there is only one other golfer alongside him.
Italy’s Edoardo Molinari is the other man at the top of the leaderboard on 11-under-par, having shot a 68 on the East Course, while the other overnight leaders – Justin Walters and Alastair Forsyth – have both dropped back to nine-under-par.
“It’s my third time here and I don’t normally play well at all in South Africa, my record here is actually pretty pathetic, although it’s probably a course that should suit me.
“Obviously the goal today was not to fall back, there’s a strong field behind that will always come at you. On four-under through the bend I had a good chance to distance myself from the field, but I didn’t capitalise,” Lee said.
David Horsey of England fired a brilliant 63 on the West Course to soar to 10-under-par and a share of third place with George Coetzee, the leading South African who is finding his way back into top form after six weeks out with a broken wrist.
There are two other locals in the top 10, with Andrew Georgiou and Walters tied for fifth on nine-under-par with Danny Willett, Roope Kakko, Forsyth, James Heath and Jin Jeong.
The golfers are finding the West Course more of a challenge than in previous years and amongst the casualties on the supposedly easier 18 holes were two-time champion Charl Schwartzel, who could only shoot a 70 to make the cut on the mark at four-under.
Defending champion Richard Sterne, who also won the title in 2008, slumped to a 73 on the West Course and missed the cut by one stroke, while former SA Open winner James Kingston shot 75 and missed by six shots.
“The wind blew today which makes the West Course a bit tougher than usual and the greens more bumpy,” Coetzee said.
The 27-year-old has eight top-three finishes in the last three years on the European Tour but is still looking for his maiden title and he admits that the push for first place affected him negatively last year, when he finished 54th on the order of merit.
“Last year I tried to force it and my finishes went from good to worst, so that definitely doesn’t work. Now I’m just trying to get into contention, staying patient,” Coetzee said.
Coetzee has dropped just one shot over the first two rounds, so clearly the patient approach is paying dividends, but he was still hard on himself at the halfway stage.
“I’m still upset about that one shot! Just for once I’d like to go through a tournament with no bogeys. Plus it feels like you’ve dropped shots when you don’t make the most of opportunities, and I had a lot today, a lot of putts shaved the hole,” Coetzee said after shooting a 68.
“I felt I played a bit better yesterday, but I’m more or less where I want to be and looking forward to the weekend. It’s just a question of hitting fairways and making putts. Just hit a lot of good shots and hope the birdies come,” Coetzee said.
Horsey had an impressive haul of eight birdies, four on each nine, adding a 63 on Friday to his 70 in the first round and he said the difference was the putter being able to get the ball in the cup with minimum fuss.
“I played really nicely in the first round but the score didn’t do it justice. I went out with the same approach today and, even though there are some easier holes, I played it very similarly. I was a little bit more aggressive today, but I made a whole lot of putts and that was it, hey presto!”
But the in-form Molinari, a two-time winner on the European Tour, is in the pound seats at the moment: sharing the lead, feeling good and having the experience of having done the job before.
“It was another very good round of golf today, and I hit the ball very well. Maybe not as well as yesterday, but I gave myself a lot of chances, which is what you have to do around the East Course. I am very pleased with four-under today.
“It’s still two rounds to go, but I like the way I am hitting the ball. I made a few putts today, but the most important thing is to keep hitting the ball like this.
“I’m very happy with pretty much everything. I missed a few putts, but that always happens and the greens are not perfect, to be honest. I am very happy with my position and my game right now,” Molinari said.
One man who certainly wasn’t happy with his game was veteran Frenchman Thomas Levet.
After missing a one-foot putt for bogey on the eighth, he suffered a mental breakdown, hitting the ball off the green in the opposite direction to the hole, smashing a sand-wedge over the green and then, after a couple of other angry hacks at the ball, he inadvertently sunk a backhand sand-wedge.
Levet then stormed off the course for an early bath, citing a sore back.
He will surely find himself in hot water as the European Tour certainly don’t look kindly on such boorish behaviour.