Michael knocks spots off Dun­hill

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GRANT WIN­TER

AS A lit­tle-known rookie play­ing in a fully-fledged Euro­pean Tour event, lead­ing af­ter the first round – as Rand­park’s An­thony Michael did in the Al­fred Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship here on Thurs­day – is one thing.

To hold one’s nerve in such elite com­pany and re­main on top through 36 holes is pretty un­usual though, but 25-year-old Michael achieved just that at Leopard Creek yes­ter­day.

In fact, he in­creased his lead from one stroke overnight to two by last evening, post­ing a 69 on this fab­u­lous bushveld lay­out to be on nine-un­der­par 135 fol­low­ing his open­ing 66 – on a day in which Bri­tish Open cham­pion Louis Oosthuizen missed the cut in the most un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances.

If Michael had sweaty palms ac­com­pa­nied by a rac­ing heart, it cer­tainly didn’t show at the start of his round yes­ter­day – at the par-4 10th. He went birdie-birdie at 10 and 11, first hol­ing a 20-footer and then hit­ting a peach of an ap­proach at the par-4 11th to about five feet.

“It’s one of the pret­ti­est holes on the course but also one of the hard­est,” said Michael of the 11th. “I went out to­day in­tent on shoot­ing un­der 70 and that hot start took the pres­sure off and I was able to cruise from there.”

And he achieved his ob­jec­tive, be­cause the 69 for 135 puts him two clear of a chas­ing pack. Big Bolan­der Dawie van der Walt (70 yes­ter­day), fel­low South African Alex Haindl (66 – thanks to two ea­gles) and Eng­land’s Robert Rock (70) are in joint sec­ond place on 137, with Nor­way’s Mar­ius Thorp, en­joy­ing the heat af­ter the norther n hemi­sphere’s big freeze, fifth all on his own on 138 af­ter a 71.

Oosthuizen, fol­low­ing a 71 for 147, missed the cut by one but he had rank bad luck at the par-4 eighth hole (his penul­ti­mate hole of the day) when, fac­ing a lit­tle chip from just off the fringe of the green, took a prac­tice swing six inches away from his ball. But as his club con­nected with the turf, his golf ball moved. That meant a one-shot penalty, lead­ing to a dou­ble­bo­gey six, and was the dif­fer­ence be­tween missing the cut and stay­ing around for the week­end.

All Michael wanted to do as a young­ster was play base­ball – he was a promis­ing pitcher – and he rep­re­sented South Africa at age-group level. But be­cause the sport is dy­ing in this coun­try, he switched to golf. Now he’s pitch­ing in with sub-70 rounds on the Euro­pean Tour.

“I didn’t hit many fair­ways to­day – only four to be hon­est – but I hit some good ap­proaches from the rough and for the sec­ond day run­ning the put­ter was hot,” he said. “I’m just hav­ing fun out there. I do feel com­fort­able over the ball in spite of a few off-line drives, and I’m lov­ing the pres­sure.”

Van der Walt is still suf­fer­ing from jet-lag af­ter fly­ing in from Amer­ica on Wed­nes­day (he played in the PGA Tour Q-School over there, gain­ing pro­vi­sional sta­tus for the Na­tion­wide Tour) which didn’t even al­low him time for a full prac­tice round.

“I still haven’t ad­justed to the time change,” he ad­mit­ted. “I went to bed at 10 o’clock last night and woke up again an hour later, hav­ing al­ready had a dream that I was due on the tee.

“I feel I’m play­ing great from tee to green, but the putts haven’t been drop­ping. I hit 16 greens (in reg­u­la­tion), 15 to­day. But to­day I had 30 putts which isn’t re­ally what you’re look­ing for.”

De­fend­ing cham­pion Pablo “Pi­casso – mas­ter of the fair­ways” Martin is in a share of sixth place on 139 along­side South Africa’s Keith Horne, Eng­land’s Neil Cheetham, Swede Oskar Hen­nings­son, Thor­b­jorn Ole­son of Den­mark and Scot­land’s Scott Jamieson.

And in a big group at four-un­der 140, af­ter a pair of 70s, is the 2005 win­ner here Charl Schwartzel. He’s hit­ting the ball su­perbly, but the putts aren’t drop­ping and if he can get the “short stick” work­ing he could be the man to beat this week­end.

ETI­ENNE ROTHBART

LEOPARD TAMER: Leader An­thony Michael, chips onto the green at the sixth at the Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship at Leopard Creek yes­ter­day.

Rory McIlroy

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