English rookie professional Ross Fisher continued his impressive early season form to forge a commanding lead at the halfway stage of the South African Airways Open, but former champions Retief Goosen and Ernie Els both moved menacingly into contention after a tough scoring day on The Links at the Fancourt Golf Club in George.
While most players struggled, Fisher, who led going into the final round of the Volvo China Open at Shenzhen three weeks ago before finishing in a share of fourth place, bucked the trend and added a 70 to his opening 68 for an eight under par total of 138 to open a significant five stroke gap over his nearest challenger.
Leading the chasing pack was Goosen, who improved on his opening 73 by three shots for a three under par total of 143 to give him considerable hope of picking up his second South African Airways Open title, following his first success a decade ago at Randpark.
A measure of how tricky the windy conditions made the Fancourt layout was illustrated by the fact that, aside from Fisher and Goosen, only six other players finished the first two rounds of the fifth event on The 2006 European Tour International Schedule under par.
What that succeeded in doing was bringing the players on level par 146 very much back into contention and included in that group was three time champion Ernie Els – the winner of last week’s dunhill championship at Leopard Creek – who put the disappointment of his opening 76 behind him to also post 70.
Also on level par is defending champion Tim Clark although the winner at Durban Country Club in January had a day to forget on The Links, carding only one birdie in his five over par 78, which proved to be a full ten shots more than his opening 68. But, as with Els, he remained very much in touch.
However, the day belonged to Fisher especially after the 25 year old, who is attached to the Wentworth Club in whose grounds The European Tour has its headquarters, raced to the turn in 32 with birdies at the second, fifth, sixth and seventh.
The Challenge Tour graduate, who took up the option of going to the Qualifying School to improve his overall ranking for the 2006 season, stumbled slightly with a bogey at the 11th and a double bogey at the 12th, but birdies on the 14th and 17th steadied the ship.
"I obviously wasn't happy with that double bogey on the 12th, but I'll say it was a 'solid' two over if there ever was one,” he said. “I made my mistake but then I quickly corrected things.
"I love playing links courses and Fancourt is no different. You have to be so imaginative around the greens, especially since they are so firm. Any chip you hit has to be spot on and you can't afford to go for the flag unless you strike the ball just perfect and put enough spin on it."
Second placed Goosen began and ended his round in indifferent fashion, with a bogey at the first and another bogey at the 16th, but in-between he was in sublime form and did not put a foot wrong as he rattled in birdies at the third, fifth, tenth, 12th and 13th.
Els went one better than Goosen with six birdies on his card to more than make up for his three dropped shots, which moved the three time Major Champion from 52nd at the start of the day, into a share of ninth place going into the weekend.