Alastair Forsyth saw his winter work come to fruition in the sunshine of the Western Cape when he moved into a share of the lead with the host nation duo of Craig Lile and Nico Van Rensburg at the halfway stage of the South African Airways Open.
On a day when the traditionally demanding south easterly wind whipped around Erinvale Golf Club, Forsyth kept his round together in admirable fashion, and was one of the few players in the co-sanctioned event with the Sunshine Tour to return to the sanctuary of the clubhouse without a bogey on his card, finishing with a 69 for a seven under par total of 137.
There could well have been one at his final hole of the day, the 406 yard ninth, where he found himself facing a 15 foot putt for par. But the 27 year old Scot ensured his day was not spoiled when he stroked home the putt in style.
Earlier in the day, his only departures from par came in the shape of three birdies, back-to-back gains at the 16th and 17th before two solid approach shots saw him find the green in two at the long third from where two putts did the necessary.
“I didn’t do much over the winter but in conjunction with my coach Ian Rae, I made a couple of little swing changes and I am really pleased with the way that has been working out,” said the winner of the 2002 Carlsberg Malaysian Open.
“It is always a little bit like going into the unknown when you make changes to your swing but I am really pleased with the way it has gone so far and if I can get the putter going again then it will be great.
“It is a course that if you are playing well it does offer you chances. I didn’t take them all today and to be honest I still feel the putting is a little bit rusty after the winter lay-off but I am sure that will come in time.”
Alongside Forsyth was Nico Van Rensburg, a player delighted to be in such prominence considering his past two years have been blighted with injury after having undergone an operation on a damaged bone in his right wrist. The 38 year old from Pretoria carded four birdies in his 70 including three in his last seven holes.
“It is a lot better now and I am finally hitting the ball with no pain which is great. I came back a little earlier than my doctor advised but I found I was trying to hit the ball and guard my right side and you can’t play like that,” he said.
Van Rensburg was in a prominent position in the event in 1998 at Durban Golf Club when he suffered the misfortune of losing a ball he thought was in a good position before hitting his provisional into a bush and running up a total which ended his chances of winning.
“That was a little bit unfortunate to say the least – I have still no idea what happened to my first ball then – I think somebody picked it up and put it in their pocket. But they say that these things level themselves out and today, on the third, I hit a pretty wayward drive but it bounced off the cart path and back into a good position from where I made birdie. Maybe my luck is changing at last.”
Making up the triumvirate of leaders was Van Rensburg’s compatriot Craig Lile, who carded six birdies and two bogeys in his 68 which bettered his opening round by a shot and which gave a total of 137.
Highlight of the day for the 27 year old from nearby Cape Town came at the notoriously difficult 481 yard par four 17th, the toughest hole on the course, and the one which cost Colin Montgomerie a quadruple bogey eight. It held no fears for Lile however, who powered a three wood and a seven iron to four feet and holed for a rare birdie three.
“I had no real expectations coming into the week, I was just hoping to make the cut to be honest which I have done obviously!” he said. “You never know what will happen at the weekend but if you put yourself in a position to win enough times, it will eventually come.”
One shot behind the leading trio were overnight leader Brett Rumford of Australia and Stephen Dodd of Wales, Rumford not able to recreate the magic of his opening 64, a 74 giving him a six under par total of 138 while Dodd reached the same mark with a 73.
“Today was brutal,” said Rumford. “Just goes to show you what a contrasting golf course this can be, it was totally different to yesterday. It didn’t have just teeth today, it had fangs.
“I played okay but putting was very difficult. The greens are slopey anyway and when you take the wind into account too and some tough pin positions, I don’t think there was a hole anywhere on the course where you could afford to relax and switch off.”
Dodd bucked the trend in the respect that he improved his card on the tough and exposed back nine, picking up birdies at the two par fives – the 13th and 16th – to be home in 34 after bogeys at the fourth, sixth and ninth had seen him to the turn in 39.
“I made a couple of mistakes on the front nine but I was playing nicely so I was hopeful I could get a couple of the shots back which is what happened,” said the Welshman, who finished tied eighth in the event last year.
Featuring in the chasing pack is defending champion Trevor Immelman, who carded a second round 69 for a four under par total of 140 and who will be looking to put his experience of over 200 rounds around his home Erinvale course to good use over the weekend.