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