MALELANE, South Africa: A monster birdie putt helped Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal shoot a three-under 69 on Friday (Saturday in Manila) and build a three-stroke lead after two rounds of the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
First-round leader Wil Besseling from the Netherlands and South African Branden Grace share second place after rounds of 73 and 70 respectively at Leopard Creek Country Club.
South African Thomas Aiken (72) and English pair Marcus Armitage (70) and Jack Singh Brar (72) share fourth, five shots behind four-time European Tour winner Larrazabal.
Scoring in 39 degrees celsius (102 fahrenheit) heat was tougher on day two with only Larrazabal and Frenchman Antoine Rozner (67) carding sub-70 rounds among the top 10 on the leaderboard.
A swirling wind brought some relief from the heat at the picturesque course in northeastern South Africa, which borders the famed Kruger National Park wildlife reserve.
But it also kept the competitors in check and South African Keith Horne, who shared second place overnight, double bogeyed twice and bogeyed four other holes to card a 79.
Larrazabal built the second best score on the second round around a sizzling second-nine run that delivered five birdies within six holes from 10.
The most spectacular of them came at 12 where he hoped to two putt for a par three, but watched his long attempt from the edge of the green drop into the hole.
This birdie was part of a brilliant recovery by the Barcelona-born 36-year-old, who is ranked 261 in the world and last won on the European circuit four years ago.
He doubled bogeyed seven after an under-clubbed tee shot at the par three dropped into water, and covered the front nine in one over.
“I did a good job today,” Larrazabal told reporters. “It was not an easy round with the wind swirling and gusting.
“The course was tight and the pin positions tough, making club choices tricky. I was both patient and aggressive and it paid off.”
Grace, the 2014 Dunhill champion, was steadiness personified, picking up three birdies and dropping just one shot with a five at the par-four ninth.
After an eagle and six birdies in his opening round, unheralded Dutchman Besseling was less effective during his second trek around the 6,627-metre (7,249-yard) layout.
He had two birdies and three bogeys, the last of which prevented him having second place to himself.
The 2020 season-opening tournament permits competitors to wear trousers or, for the first time in European Tour history, shorts.
Golfers were given the option because of a heatwave, but the organisers have stressed that the dispensation is only for the Dunhill Championship.
Larrazabal wore trousers for the second successive round while Grace and Besseling preferred shorts. AFP
Alfred Dunhill Championship scores
Leading scores after the second round of the co-sanctioned European Tour/Sunshine Tour Alfred Dunhill Championship on Saturday at the par-72 Leopard Creek Country Club near Malelane in South Africa (RSA unless noted):
135 – Pablo Larrazabal (ESP) 66-69
138 – Wil Besseling (NED) 65-73, Branden Grace 68-70
140 – Thomas Aiken 68-72, Marcus Armitage (ENG) 70-70, Jack Singh Brar (ENG) 68-72
141 – Adrian Otaegui (ESP) 69-72, Garrick Porteous (ENG) 66-75, Antoine Rozner (FRA) 74-67, Jaco van Zyl 69-72
142 – Rasmus Hojgaard (DEN) 72-70, Zander Lombard 72-70, Charl Schwartzel 70-72
144 – Eddie Pepperell (ENG) 71-73
145 – Keith Horne 66-79
147 – Ernie Els 74-73
150 – Thomas Bjorn (DEN) 74-76
Note: Competitors on three over par (147) or better made the cut and will play the final two rounds