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Golf | SA

Mark Williams © Gallo Images

Mark massacres Royal to take the lead

An absolutely sensational back nine of 29 helped first-round leader Mark Williams seize a commanding five-stroke lead at the halfway mark of the Lion of Africa Cape Town Open at Royal Cape Golf Club on Friday afternoon.

Williams began his day having seen his overnight lead cancelled out by Dean Burmester, who posted a 67 earlier in the day to join the Bulawayo resident on six-under. Williams birdied the second hole to regain his lead, but three bogeys followed in the next seven holes, and he appeared to be slipping as he turned with a score of 38.

But things took a dramatic turn for the better, as Williams embarked on a back nine that will have etched a very special space in his memory bank. As was the case with his round on Thursday, he birdied the 10th, 11th and 12th holes, and resumed his place at the top of the leaderboard.

A bogey at the par-three 13th hole appeared to have dented his progress, but the 28-year-old was just getting started. A birdie followed at the tough par-four 14th hole, and he simply kept on flying as he birdied every one of the remaining holes to post a score of 29 on the second nine to sign for a memorable 67 and reach 11-under par for the tournament.

“The front nine things didn’t go well. I hit the ball pretty nicely, but it just wasn’t there like it was yesterday. Then I hit a good tee shot on the tenth, and I had my stock-standard wedge coming in. It was the same shot as I had yesterday, which I hit to give. Today I hit it to four feet and made the putt, and it just kind of gave me that feeling.

“I started hitting it close -- I felt like I had control over the golf ball. The greens were rolling nicely, and I made a couple of really good putts. I just enjoyed the ride,” a delighted Williams said.

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The south-easter was predicted to relent, but a significant breeze continued to make its presence felt. As many foundered, those with good course management prevailed, and, with an astonishing round that included just five pars, Williams felt he negotiated the tough Cape course sensibly.

“I think I had a pretty good game-plan out there today. Where there were opportunities to take the driver I did. But there were also holes, like the par-fives, that you have to respect. It’s tough to get it in close for two, but you also have to take your chances where you can get them,” he said.

Williams joined the Sunshine Tour in 2002 when he turned pro, but has largely struggled to establish himself and spent a lot of time playing on the Big Easy Tour this year. As a result, he now finds himself in unchartered territory at the summit of the leaderboard of a summer event. But, for a man who currently lies 89th in the Order of Merit, a good finish here could be just the catalyst to kick-start something special in his career.

“I’ve never led a major tournament like this going into the weekend. But it feels great. I’m just going to get out there tomorrow and try do the same thing, and play and as well as I can. I also want to just enjoy the moment -- the more times I can get myself up here, the more comfortable I’m going to be.

“I’ve been concentrating on trying to get my game ready for the summer season, and hopefully now I can get my exemption and get some money on the board,” he said.

On a day that belonged to the rampant Williams, there were a few other players who negotiated the wind and put themselves in the mix. Burmester and Jake Roos both put together rounds of 67 and share second place at six-under, while Attie Schwartzel shot a magnificent 66 to reach five-under. He is joined by Keith Horne and Jaco van Zyl -- the latter of whom could only manage a 72 today.

Often being the hunter is less nerve-wracking than being the hunted, and it will be difficult for Williams to sustain such scintillating form. But he heads into the weekend safe in the knowledge that two solid rounds on Saturday and Sunday will make him very difficult to catch.


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