Kruger steals limelight from Jimenez, Tianlang
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