Englishman Matt Ford and Spaniard Edoardo de la Riva are leading the way after the second round of the Africa Open at East London Golf Club on Friday, but four South Africans are just below them, well-positioned to continue the history of local success in the co-sanctioned Sunshine/European Tour event.
Ford, who held a share of the overnight lead with Kevin Phelan, shot a brilliant six-under-par 66 on Friday to go to 11-under-par, one stroke ahead of De la Riva, who also fired a 66 to move to 10-under.
But the South African presence is strong with Jaco van Zyl and Erik van Rooyen in a tie for third with Frenchman Gregory Havret on eight-under, and Trevor Fisher Junior and Neil Schietekat in a tie for sixth on seven-under-par with Germany’s Maximilian Kieffer, Mark Tullo of Chile and Englishmen David Howell and John Parry.
One of the many attractions of East London Golf Club is the multitude of different challenges it can present depending on the weather conditions, and golf here is never boring.
After a blustery first day, the wind switched direction on Friday and calmed down, before regaining strength again in the afternoon.
As Ford pointed out, on the 12th hole on Thursday he hit a driver and four-iron to reach the green, whereas on Friday he hit a driver and then holed a 50 degree wedge for an eagle.
“The wind was just starting to pick up, but the course was very different today and very scorable because conditions were slightly easier. I just wanted to hit good shots and take advantage, and I gave myself lots of opportunities – I was inside 15 feet 11 times but I had a couple of missed putts,” Ford said.
Van Zyl, who has a tremendous record at East London Golf Club, said the course keeps you honest, as shown by his first round when he was three-over on the front nine, before fighting back brilliantly to post a 70.
“This is a very difficult golf course because there are so many different elements. I wasn’t too shocked by my start because the smallest mistake gets magnified a hundred times by this course. But it was really nice to bring it back and today it was much easier in the morning and I was able to capitalise on quite a few holes,” Van Zyl said.
Of all the men in the top-10, Van Zyl has the most experience of winning, except for former world top-10 golfer Howell, and the 13-time Sunshine Tour winner is determined to keep knocking on the door.
“I’ve got to take it one shot at a time and not get ahead of myself. But if I give myself as many opportunities as I can to win, then it has to happen some time. But you’ve obviously got to play nicely and being in contention brings different pressures and expectations. But life will become a lot easier once I get a co-sanctioned win under the belt,” Van Zyl said.
The 36-year-old said it was far from his best ball-striking day, but improved form with the putter means he is strongly in contention midway through the R14.5 million event.
“I’m probably at about 70% of how well I can drive, but now I’m making the putts. I had 27 yesterday and 25 today. Yesterday was really tough though and I was very chuffed I managed to shoot two-under. It was a lot easier this morning, it was totally different today, a lot of the holes were into a little breeze but there were still quite a few holes to capitalise on,” Van Zyl said.
Phelan slipped far down the leaderboard with a level-par 72 and now trails Ford by six shots, while Richard Bland, tied third overnight, also could not break par.
If Van Zyl falters, then Schietekat and Van Rooyen are a pair of younger South Africans for whom there are high hopes and they could get the job done to ensure the trophy stays at home for an eighth year.
“It was quite nice to have some calm weather this morning but I’m not hitting the ball exactly the way I want to. But my putting got me out of trouble and the draw worked nicely for me. Maybe something will happen this weekend … ” Schietekat said.
“I played well at Joburg Open last week and I’m putting really nicely. I couldn’t have asked for a better result today and I’m right in there,” a delighted Van Rooyen said after his 66.