Pint-sized Muller leads the way in Masters

2008-02-02 00:00

PORT EDWARD — “Oh my hat, wait till my sons hear this,” laughed pint-sized Grant Muller, who emerged as the surprise leader as the curtain dropped on the second day of the Nashua Masters on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast.

“Glenn and Matthew will be thrilled to bits; the first question they always ask me is ‘Where are you lying, Dad’,” said The Mighty, still shaking his head in disbelief at his name at the top of the halfway leaderboard.

Muller wielded his belly putter — or sternum putter, as he calls it, in reference to his height — to great effect, holing two crucial putts over his last three holes to take a one shot lead over the six-pack of players tied for second.

Adding a three-under-par 69 to his opening 65, Muller tops the midway leaderboard at eight-under-par 132.

Joint overnight leader Mark Murless got it to 10-under through 12 holes, but collapsed with back-to-back bogeys at the 14th and 15th and a double drop at the 16th, where his third found the drink. Murless birdied the 18th to finish with a 69 and leads the six-man bus tied seven-under 133.

Defending champion Jean Hugo dropped one shot on his way to a 65, while Englishman Justin Walters lost the lead at nine-under after hitting his drive on the last out of bounds. He had to play his provisional and signed for a disappointing 68.

It’s not that Muller isn’t used to being in contention, or winning for that matter.

He finished the 2007 season ranked 32nd on the Sunshine Tour’s money list and just last week, tied for 13th after shooting a score of one-under-par 287 around the tough Gary Player and Lost City layouts. But at just five-foot seven, it took a little convincing to persuade the pocket rocket from Glenvista that he truly held the lead.

“Every time I was on the fairway today, I knew I could put it close to the pins,” said Muller, who relishes the Wild Coast Sun layout and rates it among his two favourite courses in south Africa.

“I didn’t drive the ball all that well. I was a little off my rhythm and didn’t complete my turns, but I managed to send it where I was aiming. But I’m feeling confident over the putter,” he added.

In 1994, Muller came close to leaving the pro circuit after suffering full-blown Jips.

He worked through it, but although he consistently gets himself in a good position on the dance floor, the short stick continued to let him down.

“I started playing with the belly putter at the Joburg Open and suddenly, I lose a 14-year twitch. I feel incredibly confident with this putter. It’s not to say all the putts are dropping, especially not on grainy greens like these, but there is so much less to worry about.”

Englishman Walters, who over the last month has built a reputation as one of the best putters on Tour, was understandably upset about his late blip, saying it left a bitter taste in his mouth.

“I guess that’s my mulligan for the week. But tomorrow is another day,” said Walters, who tied for fourth last year.

Hugo, too, was happy to be back in contention, saying that he would use the mental edge of his victory last year to give him a push over the weekend.

The halfway cut was set at one-over-par 141,with rookie Dawie van der Walt holing a crucial putt at the last to squeeze in for the weekend.

LEADING SCORES

SA otherwise stated

132 - Grant Muller 65 67

133 - Mark Murless 64 69, Jean Hugo 68 65, Justin Walters (ENG) 65 68, Marc Cayeux (ZIM) 66 67, Bradford Vaughan 67 66, Dandre Neumeyer 68 65

134 - Theunis Spangenberg 64 70, Wallie Coetsee 67 67

135 - Euan Little (SCO) 67 68, Martin Maritz 66 69, Nemanja Savic (SER) 71 64, Teboho Sefatsa 68 67, Steve Basson 68 67

136 - Chris Williams 69 67, Deane Pappas 70 66, Ryan Tipping 69 67, Shaun Norris 68 68, Werner Geyer 68 68

137 - Robert Wiederkehr (SUI) 69 68, Steve van Vuuren 71 66, Tyrone van Aswegen 69 68, Omar Sandys 67 70, Brett Liddle 66 71

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