Scott Drummond retained his position at the top of the Stanbic Zambia Open leaderboard, but has been joined by South African Desvonde Botes, Argentina's Sebastian Fernandez, and Zimbabwean Travis Fraser after Friday's second round at the Lusaka Golf Club.
Drummond set the mark at nine-under par 137 with a 72 on a humid morning, then watched as a flurry of scoring in the afternoon suddenly made things quite crowded at the top of the leaderboard.
Botes, the 1996 Zambia champion and winner of the European Tour Qualifying School in 2000, signed for a 67 to share the lead. Fraser then threw in a low 65, featuring 10 birdies and two bogeys, while Fernandez, the current leader on the Challenge Tour ranking and already a winner this year, posted a 68 to set up an intriguing weekend.
Drummond, seeking a fast start to his season after a disappointing 2002, kept himself in contention despite a putter which was not half as co-operative as during his first round 65. He started well with an eagle-three at the second and despite a bogey at the third, added a birdie at the ninth to be out in 33.
But he could only pick up one more shot with a birdie at the 18th, while adding to his bogey tally at the 12th and 17th in an inward 39.
Without a win since turning professional in 1998, 23 year old Fraser is the rookie in the group. But he looked everything but that, carding the joint low round of the day with loops of 32 and 33.
"I hit my driver well all day and putted superbly," Fraser said. The key moment of his round came at the short 11th when he splashed out from the greenside bunker and holed an eight-footer for par. "That got my momentum going and I never looked back."
Fraser went out with six birdies, then carded two bogeys and four birdies on his homeward nine for one of his best performances since finishing eighth in the Limpopo Industrelek Classic two years ago. "To score well here you have to hit the fairways, and that's all I did today."
Botes is an obvious threat having won here before and now seemingly over the back trouble which has plagued him for the past two years. But Fernandez is possibly the most menacing prospect at the top of the leaderboard, having already claimed the Costa Rica Open this year and looking incredibly solid from tee to green.
The 29-year-old also enjoyed a sizzling first nine featuring five birdies. But his putter went cold on the second nine, where he bogeyed the first and birdied
the second before parring his way home.
"My game is very solid at the moment. My concentration is where I want it and I like this course. I'm in a good position for the weekend," he said.
The leaders' nearest challengers on seven under par 139, are South African Bobby Lincoln, who shot 70, and Zambian Oliver Seno, bidding to become the first local winner of this event, with 69.
South African Derek Scullard, two shots behind Drummond at the start of play, slumped to a 79 for 146, while two other Springboks, Keith Horne and Michael
Kirk, followed up opening 68s with 73 and 72 respectively.
The halfway cut came at two-over par 148 with 68 players surviving. Among the casualties was Zimbabwes Marc Cayeux, twice a winner of this tournament and the defending champion, missing out by a single stroke on 149 after a 73.