Kruger steals lime­light from Jimenez, Tian­lang

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - PETER HUTCHI­SON

JBE KRUGER grabbed the out­right lead at the half­way stage of the Hong Kong Open yes­ter­day, pay­ing trib­ute af­ter­wards to Nel­son Man­dela who he called a “real-life hero”.

Kruger added to an open­ing round 67 with a four-un­der-par 66, thanks to a scin­til­lat­ing putting dis­play on the back nine that left him one shot clear of Stuart Man­ley go­ing into the weekend.

Or­gan­is­ers had billed the tour­na­ment as a clash be­tween Span­ish vet­eran Miguel An­gel Jimenez, chas­ing a record­e­qualling fourth ti­tle, and 15- year- old Chi­nese prodigy Guan Tian­lang.

But Kruger had dif­fer­ent ideas at the co- sanc­tioned Euro­pean Tour and Asian Tour event, sink­ing seven birdies yes­ter­day while Jimenez only par­tially moved up the leader­board and Guan failed to make the cut.

“Our coun­try has lost a re­al­life hero,” Kruger, who wore a black rib­bon in mem­ory of the anti- apartheid hero, said of Man­dela af­ter his round.

“He was one of the best pres­i­dents I’ve ever seen. I think it will def­i­nitely af­fect white and black in our coun­try.

“He fought for the black South Africans but the white South Africans love him just as much. I don’t know that our coun­try will ever have a leader like that (again).”

Kruger cer­tainly seemed in­spired. Af­ter a shaky front nine, which in­cluded one birdie and three bo­geys, he stepped up sev­eral gears on the in­ward half. He holed putts for birdies on 11, 12, 13 and 14 be­fore a par on 15 pre­ceded two fur­ther birdies on the 16th and 17th.

The put­ter stayed hot and Kruger holed a short one for par on the last to come back in only 30 shots.

“I couldn’t hit it (the ball) bet­ter. The front nine I just couldn’t make any­thing,” but then the putts started to drop he said. “I’m prob­a­bly hit­ting it as good as I can. If the putts go in you never know.”

Kruger, who is ranked 230th in the world, said it was “fun” to be lead­ing an event “for a change”. “I’m just en­joy­ing it, try­ing to stay emo­tion­ally in a good place,” he said.

Ear­lier, de­fend­ing cham­pion Jimenez made a charge at the $1.3 mil­lion event at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

The Spa­niard, who was the early favourite to tri­umph on Fan­ling’s lush fair­ways cour­tesy of be­ing the high­es­tranked player at 48, shot a three-un­der-par 67 to go with Thurs­day’s par 70.

But it should have been so much bet­ter for the win­ner of 19 Euro­pean Tour ti­tles af­ter he birdied six of his first 11 holes with­out drop­ping a shot.

Three bo­geys saw him fall back and he sat four shots be­hind Kruger go­ing into the third round.

“I’m re­ally dis­ap­pointed with the fin­ish,” Jimenez said.

Guan failed to repli­cate his suc­cess at this year’s US Mas­ters when he made it to the fi­nal two rounds, strug­gling to a 75 which left him at plus six – five shots shy of the pro­jected cut. – Sapa-AFP

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