Matt Ford produced another marvellous round on the second day of the Africa Open at East London Golf Club to lead going into the weekend, but he will have several dangerous pursuers, including four South Africans, in the second half of the co-sanctioned European/Sunshine Tour event.
Ford backed up his 67 in the first round with a six-under-par 66 on Friday and enjoys a one-stroke lead heading into the weekend on 11-under-par.
Kevin Phelan, who shared the first-round lead, and Richard Bland, who was one stroke back, both slipped down the leaderboard, but Ford still has 10 golfers within four shots of him.
Spain’s Edoardo de la Riva is second on 10-under-par after shooting a 66, a score which was matched by Jaco van Zyl and Erik Van Rooyen. The pair leads the South African charge on eight-under-par alongside Frenchman Gregory Havret.
Two more locals, Neil Schietekat and Trevor Fisher Junior, are on seven-under and share sixth position with Maximilian Kieffer, Mark Tullo, David Howell and John Parry.
South Africans have won all seven previous editions of the Africa Open, and with Van Zyl, Van Rooyen, Schietekat and Fisher Junior all moving up the leaderboard, they have a good chance of continuing that streak.
The 36-year-old Ford has dreamed for a long time of competing on the European Tour, going back to Qualifying School 10 times before finally winning his card last November, and he is looking more and more comfortable at this level, managing to follow a low round with another one for the first time.
“I played nicely today, I’m very happy. It’s been two good rounds and hopefully there are two to come. I gave myself plenty of opportunities and was inside 15 feet 11 times. I was just trying to hit good shots and take advantage of the slightly easier conditions,” Ford said after a round that featured six birdies, an eagle and two bogeys.
But how Ford handles the pressures of the unknown remains to be seen. Van Zyl, with 13 Sunshine Tour titles, has much more experience of winning, even though he is yet to claim a European Tour title, despite having six top-three finishes.
“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 one under the belt,” Van Zyl said.
The highlight of Van Zyl’s round, which began on the ninth hole, was a run of eagle-birdie-birdie from the third hole, and the 36-year-old said it was down to his putter.
“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.
The Dainfern Country Club representative, who is making an impressive comeback from surgery on both knees last year, says he just feels enormously comfortable at East London Golf Club, as long as he is not being blown off his feet by the wind.
“This course just suits my eye. It feels like even if I play 70% of my best I’ll still break par, while on some other courses you can be playing at 100% and still struggle to break par,” Van Zyl said.
Kieffer, a German, produced the round of the day with a top-class nine-under-par 63. He started with a bogey five on the ninth hole, but then went on a superb run of five birdies in seven holes on the back nine.
The front nine started with Kieffer draining a 15-foot putt for eagle on the par-five first hole and a trio of birdies followed to complete a dazzling round which lifted a relative rookie on the European Tour from a tie for 89th position right up to a tie for sixth.
Schietekat is starting to show the consistency on the tour that he showed as a teenager on the amateur circuit and he ensured he stayed in contention with a solid three-under-par 69.
“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.