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Golf | SA

Stenson surges ahead before play called off

Henrik Stenson stormed into a four-shot lead at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate on day two of the 102nd South African Open Championship before play was abandoned due to thunderstorms.

After having earlier called the players off the course due to a threat of lightning, the Sunshine Tour tournament directors called an end to the day’s play shortly after 5pm as the ominous skies over Ekurhuleni showed no signs of relenting.

Those in the afternoon field unable to complete their rounds will return to their markers tomorrow at 7:30am when play resumes. The third round will now get under way no earlier than 10:30am and become a two-tee start.

One player who was able to complete his round on Friday was Stenson, and the Swede sailed to 13 under-par courtesy of a second-round 65. The bogey-free round has yielded him a four shot lead, with fellow-countryman Magnus A Carlsson and overnight-leader Merrick Bremner his nearest challengers at nine under.

Having teed off the 10th hole, Stenson got off to a quiet start before mounting a serious charge to reach the turn in 33. Two more birdies followed on his second nine and a remarkable eagle on the eighth capped off a superb round, leaving the six-time European Tour winner very pleased with his efforts.

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“It didn’t feel 100% on the range this morning. It was a little bit of a trembling start, I made five pars so nothing great the first couple of holes. But I made a nice putt on 15, hit two good shots on 16 just short of the green and up and downed that one. I hit a great drive on 17 again, and made a nice 10-footer for birdie. So that kind of jump-started my day with those three birdies.

“I had a couple of pars, nothing too exciting (on the back nine).Then I finished with a bit of fireworks on the eighth. I hit a super six-iron from 206 to eight feet and made the putt,” Stenson said.

One of the most pleasing things for Stenson has been the improvement in his driving. It’s a part of his game that has dogged him in recent years, but he has certainly put on a fine display with the big stick at Serengeti this week.

“I’ve hit a lot of good drives. I think I counted that I hit eight drives on the course yesterday, and that’s probably as many as I hit in the 2011 season. So it’s nice to get the feel back with the driver, and to get a bit of confidence back. I’ve hit some really good tee balls,” he said.

The 36-year-old only arrived in Johannesburg on Tuesday evening from the United States, but has coped tremendously well given the jetlag he is suffering from.

“I went to bed at midnight yesterday and woke up at 01:40, so I guess the body must have thought it was a bit of an afternoon kip. I slept another couple of hours, so I don’t know what time of the day it is really. But it’s worked so far. Maybe that’s the formula next time,” he joked.

Stenson also has no qualms about being the hunted man, and is understandably comfortable about his position going into the weekend.

“I prefer to be leading because I’ve probably won half my tournaments from ahead. If I’m playing well and I’m leading, the other guys have to play even better than I do to be able to catch me and go ahead of me.

“So I’ll just keep making as many birdies as I can and try pull away,” he said.

Bremner was unable to complete his round, and could only get to within four of Stenson before being called off on his 14th hole of the day.

After teeing off the tenth, he made a terrible start as he double-bogeyed the par-four 13th. However, the 26 year-old was beginning to eat away at the Swede’s lead until a bogey on the par-three fifth hole saw him slip back into a tie for second.

Carlsson was another member of the morning field, and he followed his opening-round 68 with an impressive 67 on day two to leave him right in contention.

Scotland’s Lloyd Saltman is in sole possession of fourth spot at eight-under, while South Africans Oliver Bekker, Darren Fichardt, Charl Schwartzel and Matthew Carvell form part of a group of players who lie a further stroke back.


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