Schwartzel in his el­e­ment birdie-hunt­ing at Leop­ard Creek

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

PUT Charl Schwartzel in the mid­dle of the bush and he’s a happy man, whether it’s sim­ply ob­serv­ing na­ture, do­ing a lit­tle hunt­ing or, as in the cur­rent sce­nario, shoot­ing birdies at the wild and won­der­ful Leop­ard Creek Coun­try Club in the Al­fred Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship.

He de­scribes the bushveld clas­sic lay­out as the course he loves most any­where in the world.

And it cer­tainly has suited him – with wins in the Dun­hill here in 2004, 2012 and a record 24-un­der-par in 2013.

Yes­ter­day he was at it again in the 17th edi­tion of this Sun­shine Tour flag­ship event, which is co-sanc­tioned with the Euro­pean Tour and is the start of the 2016 Race to Dubai.

Af­ter a 67 in the sec­ond round he stands at 11-un­der-par 133 and leads by five from fel­low South African Richard Sterne (70 yes­ter­day), Spain’s Pablo Martín-Be­na­vides (69), France’s Ben­jamin Her­bert (70) and Dutch­man Joost Luiten who ea­gled the par-5 18th en route to a 70.

Now Schwartzel, the 2011 Mas­ters cham­pion and ranked as high as No 6 in the world in 2012, hasn’t had the best of sea­sons which he puts down to a balky put­ter, al­though there has been noth­ing wrong with his long game.

His body lan­guage, for the most part, hasn’t been what it should be, al­though last week in the 2015 Race to Dubai’s sea- son- end­ing DP World Tour Cham­pi­onship he was look­ing perkier fol­low­ing a tied fourth fin­ish.

Yes­ter­day, it ap­peared as if he was al­most ready to start danc­ing on the ex­quis­ite Leop­ard Creek greens as he posted six birdies and a sin­gle drop on the course, which bor­ders the Kruger Na­tional Park.

Start­ing at the 10th, he closed off his round at the treach­er­ous par- four ninth, where wa­ter sur­rounds much of the green, with a rare birdie.

“The pin to­day was very dif­fi­cult to get to, so I ended up hav­ing to make a 15-footer for the birdie and man, it was nice to make that sort of putt.

“I haven’t made many of them for a long time, so to just make a few this week gives me hope,” said Schwartzel.

“I’ve been go­ing through stages where I’d hit putts that miss as they come off the blade.

“At least now I’m hit­ting putts that are miss­ing but scar­ing the hole,” he added with a chuckle.

“I just think I feel so very com­fort­able here.

“I’ve al­ways liked the bush and the set­ting of the course makes me feel re­laxed.

“It’s a lot to do with the lay­out.

“When I look back over the years I’ve gained con­fi­dence in the lines that I hit.

“There are trees al­most on ev­ery hole where I know where to aim and it feels right,” said the 31-year-old, who has won 12 times around the world, and who this week is again look­ing like a man who is wor­thy of an­other Green Jacket.

To­day and tomorrow, among those try­ing to pre­vent Schwartzel from lifting this ti­tle for the fourth time will be Sterne, win­ner here in 2008, and Martín-Be­na­vides, cham­pion in 2009 and 2010.

“To shoot 70 to­day was very pleas­ing be­cause there was a lot of wind around,” said Sterne, who is try­ing to find form again af­ter an in­jury­plagued two years and an hor­ren­dous 2015 PGA Tour cam­paign in the United States.

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” said a laugh­ing Martín-Be­na­vides af­ter his 69.

“I played well un­til the TV cam­eras ar­rived and then I started hit­ting bad shots – just like round one.”

De­fend­ing cham­pion Bran­den Grace (73) just made the cut, while his fel­low coun­try­man Louis Oosthuizen ( 76) missed out.

Oosthuizen was not helped by an hor­rific eight at the treach­er­ous par-3 sixth where he found wa­ter from a green­side bunker, dropped a fresh ball and again ended up in the wa­ter, be­fore hit­ting his sixth shot onto the green and twop­utting.

Eng­land’s Ed­die Pep­perell had the day’s best round, a 65, and is at mi­nus-5 with Zim­babwe’s Mark Wil­liams and Aus­tralia’s Ja­son Scrivener.

Overnight leader Chris­ti­aan Bas­son from SA, could only man­age a round of 76 af­ter hit­ting a blis­ter­ing 64 on Thurs­day and is on 140 over­all.

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