Frenchman Raphaël Jacquelin continued to tap into a rich vein of form at Houghton Golf Club when a fine second round 65 for a 13 under par total of 131 gave him the lead at the halfway stage of the dunhill championship.
The 29 year old from Lyon, who finished a career-best 20th on the Volvo Order of Merit in 2003 and tied for fifth in last week’s South African Airways Open at Erinvale Golf Club, opened up a one shot lead over his nearest challengers, Ireland’s Peter Lawrie and Marcel Siem of Germany.
Jacquelin was flawless in near perfect conditions at the Johannesburg venue, carding three birdies on the front nine and four on the inward half, his birdie putts ranging in length from the 18 footer at the tenth, to a tap in at the par five 16th.
The Frenchman worked hard on his game over the winter in Morocco with three of his most trusted aides; technical coach Alain Alberti, fitness coach Jean-Jacques Rivet and mental coach Paul Lajier and the trio combined to deliver Jacquelin in fine fettle.
“We spent ten days together working hard on everything which worked really well, it was great preparation for the season ahead,” he said. “I think the fact that I was in contention last week and am up there again this week shows that I am confident, in good form and playing as well as last year.”
Another player who enjoyed a bountiful 2003 season was Ireland’s Peter Lawrie, who finished 56th on the Volvo Order of Merit and in the process landed himself the coveted title of the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, the first Irishman to be awarded the accolade.
However, in the sunshine of Houghton, Lawrie gave the perfect indication of why you should beware the injured golfer when he shrugged off the inconvenience of an achilles tendon problem in his left ankle to limp into contention with an excellent second round 64 for a 12 under par total of 132.
Lawrie admitted that, in a perverse fashion, having an injury concern perhaps helped his cause in that he was conscious of not overswinging or trying to hit the ball too hard. “I was thinking more about my ankle than my scores,” he said. “I was just trying to find the fairways and greens, and luckily I holed a few putts.”
Undoubtedly Lawrie was adept at that, rolling in four birdie efforts in five holes on the outward half before adding further gains at the 13th and 15th. But it was on the closing stretch that the Irishman also exhibited his talent for escapology.
In the trees after wayward drives on both par fives – the 16th and the 18th – Lawrie found a way through the branches both times before firing his respective pitches to ten and four feet and holing out for unlikely birdies fours.
Alongside Lawrie on 132 was Germany’s Marcel Siem, one of the overnight leaders, who slipped back slightly but remained firmly in contention with a second round 67.
The 23 year old from Dusseldorf, whose best European Tour finish came when he was tied for fifth place in the 2002 Diageo Championship at Gleneagles, started impressively with five birdies in six holes in an outward half of 31.
Another birdie at the tenth suggested he might be the man to take the lead outright into the third day’s play but his momentum was halted slightly when he dropped shots at the 12th and 14th, although a birdie four at the 16th righted the balance slightly.
“I am a little nervous but I know I shouldn’t be because all the big players who win tournaments don’t allow themselves to get nervous on the course,” he said. “I will try and work on that aspect tonight and I am really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Two players shared fourth place on 11 under par 133, Søren Hansen of Denmark and South African based Scot Alan McLean who carded respective second rounds of 67 and 68, while the leading South African contender in this joint-sanctioned event with the Sunshine Tour was Port Elizabeth-based Titch Moore, who returned a 66 for a ten under par total of 134.
The cut fell at three under par 141 leaving 71 players to contest the final two rounds. One of those is defending champion Mark Foster of England who crept in right on the cut off point after rounds of 72-69, while his playing partner and winner of last week’s South African Airways Open, Trevor Immelman, also made the weekend on five under par 139 after rounds of 70-69.