The old adage claims: ‘it is not how you start, but how you finish’ which counts and Titch Moore proved that to be precisely the case when he produced a superb recovery on Durban Country Club’s inward half to claim pole position at the halfway stage of the South African Airways Open.
Joint leader overnight after his opening 65, the big-hitting South African from Port Elizabeth slipped out of the limelight after an error-strewn front nine of 38. But the 28 year old rectified matters in fine style with an inward half of 32, his 70 giving him a nine under par total of 135 and a two shot lead over compatriots Hendrik Buhrmann and Tjaart van der Walt.
“Around the turn I was just trying to hang in there because I wasn’t playing that well,” admitted Moore. “I actually did well to make pars at the first two holes before I bogeyed the third but I knew there were always opportunities coming down the final few holes so I was just trying to be patient.
“I was trying to get my round back to even par to be honest so to get it to two under with a nice finish was good. You always prefer to finish well after starting badly rather than the other way round.”
Moore’s recovery mission began when he pitched to six feet and holed at the 13th before he produced the shot of the day at the par five 14th to keep his momentum going.
In the trees after another wayward drive, the former South African Amateur champion was fortunate to find a favourable lie from where he smashed a six iron through the branches to the heart of the green from where he two putted for a birdie four.
Buoyed by the stroke of the good fortune allied to the stroke of pure genius, Moore went on to notch further birdies at the 16th – where he fired a seven iron to four feet – and at the 274 yard 18th where he drove the green and two putted for a closing three.
One of his nearest challengers, Buhrmann, had almost the opposite round to the leader, four birdies seeing him breeze through the outward half in 32 before bogeys on the 12th and 17th saw him only home in 35 for 67 and a seven under par total of 137.
The 41 year old admitted he was delighted with his lofty position. “I have had a lot of injuries recently and it’s been giving me a lot of trouble,” he said. “But I have been trying to work hard on my game and it is looking good so I am looking forward to the year.
Buhrmann admitted that his experience of the tournament and Durban Country Club might help him in his quest for the title over the next two days.
“This golf course is very much like St Andrews – I mean you play it and there seems nothing to it, but as soon as there’s a tournament and the wind blows, you find there are places on the course you didn’t even know existed! You must know where to go and manage yourself on this course.”
Alongside Buhrmann, van der Walt carded a 71 for 137, but for a while looked like he would go into the weekend in a share for the lead when he reached the 15th tee at nine under par. But a run of three bogeys in row dropped him back before he made his dinner taste a little better with a closing birdie three at the 18th.
Four players, Frenchman Gregory Havret, the South African trio of Andrew McLardy, and Luis Oosthuizen, and American Bruce Vaughan shared fourth place on six under par 138, McLardy, who was 31 on Thursday, giving himself a belated birthday gift with a second consecutive 69.
“I didn’t really do anything for my birthday, but hopefully I can put that right on Sunday night when I can indulge myself a little bit,” said McLardy, who gained his card for The 2005 European Tour through the Qualifying School in San Roque last November.
One of the first starters in the second round, McLardy took advantage of the relatively benign early morning conditions to attack the back nine of the Durban Country Club – hosting the event for a record 16th time – with vigour.
The South African birdied four holes out of five from the tenth to be ‘out’ in 32 and although he could not maintain the momentum on his inward half – with a bogey at the fifth his only departure from par – he pronounced himself happy with his position at halfway.
The cut fell at two over par 146, with one of the 77 players who will tee up at the weekend being the World Number 14 Darren Clarke, who made the last two rounds right on the mark after a second round 74.
However the bare statistics do not do justice to a remarkable ending to the Ulsterman’s second round, driving the green at the 18th and holing from 30 feet for an audacious eagle two which clinched his place in the weekend’s action. “I am glad to stay,” said Clarke. “There is nothing worse than missing a cut.”