Volvo Champs wide open

2014-01-11 00:00

THE Volvo Golf Champions is wide open going into the weekend after yesterday’s second day, with three players — South African Louis Oosthuizen, Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and Dutchman Joost Luiten — locked for the lead at -7.

The wind had completely changed direction, and the cloud cover meant that the heat was bearable as four players — Luiten, Branden Grace, Fleetwood and Matteo Manassero — shot rounds of 67 to equal Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin’s round from Thursday.

Overnight leader Jacquelin struggled yesterday, carding an even round of 72 while Oosthuizen dropped just one shot on his way to a 69.

But while Oosthuizen sitting on top of the leader board has given South Africans reason for optimism heading into the weekend, it is still far too close to call.

The highlight of the day undoubtedly belonged to Luiten. On the par-five 10th, the 28-year-old Dutchman was left with a 230-metre shot to the pin after his drive. The small group of supporters gathered at the green couldn’t have expected what happened next. Luiten hit a straight four iron before the ball rolled onto the green and into the cup for a remarkable Albatross.

“I went straight at it and it just went exactly where I wanted it to go,” said a modest Luiten afterwards. “It pitched on the front of the green and went in. It is the first Albatross of my career so that is a good feeling.”

But the 2013 KLM Open and Lyoness Open winner was not getting carried away.

“The top is very packed and there are many guys close,” he said. “I’m not even thinking about anybody else. I’ll come back on the weekend and do what I can.”

Luiten said that the course was completely different to Thursday’s.

“The wind was blowing the other way around and it’s like playing on a different course,” he said. “I needed to think of a new game plan. It is a great course. The greens are small and it is a very good test of golf out there.”

Young Tommy Fleetwood (22) is a surprise co-leader.

Winner of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in August last year, big things are expected of Fleetwood on the European Tour in the years to come.

While the crowds followed some of the tournament’s bigger names, Fleetwood quietly went about his business and is now positioned perfectly with two rounds to go.

“I’m delighted with how I played. I had good up and downs when I missed the greens,” he said, before adding how impressed he was by the spectators.

“The crowds in South Africa are amongst the best in the world. They love golf and I had people giving me a lot of support,” he said. “I doubt very much I’ll be the favourite if I play with Louis, but hopefully they aren’t too hard on me.”

Oosthuizen’s round was effective though unspectacular. His low point came on the par five eighth when he hooked his drive and was left with a decision to either lay up or try an aggressive shot for the green in two. After opting for the more adventurous approach, Oosthuizen found himself in even more trouble and was forced to punch back onto the fairway. A poor pitch then left him with too much work to do to save par.

“I wasn’t really hitting the ball as well as I was yesterday [Thursday],” the crowd favourite said. “I had a few good chips and par putts that saved me. I’ll need to play a bit better tomorrow [today].”

The defending champion also found the course completely different.

“Everything changed on every hole because of the wind,” he said. “The holes that were scoring holes on Thursday were tough today from 14 onwards with the way I was hitting the ball, I was happy to make pars.”

South Africa’s other pre-tournament favourite, Charl Schwartzel, is six shots back after carding an improved round of 69, though it will take something special from him today to get back into contention.

Yesterday’s play also saw 18 amateur golfers given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with the professionals after they had gone through qualifying tournaments throughout last year and then again this week — a unique initiative that the tournament has embraced.

“It wasn’t a distraction at all and Linda [Adamsson] played really well. She was beautiful off the tee,” said Oosthuizen.

Each amateur played with a different pairing, and a separate team competition was run with Luiten and Dawie van der Walt taking home a new Volvo after they won the competition with their partner, Mexico’s Henrique Calderon.

LEADERBOARD

137 Tommy Fleetwood (Britain) 70 67, Joost Luiten (Netherlands) 70 67, Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) 68 69

138 Victor Dubuisson (France) 69 69

139 Matteo Manassero (Italy) 72 67

140 Raphael Jacquelin (France) 67 73, Darren Clarke (Britain) 69 71

141 Marcel Siem (Germany) 70 71, Branden Grace (South Africa) 74 67, Chris Wood (Britain) 70 71

142 Padraig Harrington (Ireland) 71 71, Jamie Donaldson (Britain) 71 71, Dawie Van der Walt (South Africa) 71 71, Simon Thornton (Ireland) 70 72

143 Brett Rumford (Australia) 73 70, Charl Schwartzel (South Africa) 74 69

144 Darren Fichardt (South Africa) 73 71, Thomas Aiken (South Africa) 72 72, Colin Montgomerie (Britain) 70 74

145 David Howell (Britain) 76 69, Michael Hoey (Britain) 72 73, Morten Madsen (Denmark) 71 74, Richard Sterne (South Africa) 72 73, David Lynn (Britain) 71 74

146 Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain) 76 70, Mikko Ilonen (Finland) 73 73, Robert Karlsson (Sweden) 74 72

147 Julien Quesne (France) 74 73, Stephen Gallacher (Britain) 73 74, Thomas Bjorn (Denmark) 79 68, Paul Casey (Britain) 72 75, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Spain) 74 73

148 Peter Uihlein (U.S.) 70 78

149 Jeong Jin (South Korea) 73 76, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand) 75 74

150 Jose Maria Olazabal (Spain) 73 77

See page 36

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