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Friday, 19 March 2010
Alfred Dunhill Championships - Round Two  (Getty Images)
Alfred Dunhill Championships - Round Two (Getty Images)

Less than a month after fearing for his European Tour future, Spaniard Pablo Martin charged into a four stroke halfway lead at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.

Martin, whose game suffered after he became The European Tour's first amateur winner two years ago, followed eight birdies with a closing eagle for a dazzling 63.

The 23 year old is on 13 under par, but title favourite Ernie Els and in-form Italian Edoardo Molinari look set to test him over the weekend.

They are joint second after Els also had eight birdies in a 67 and Molinari kept alive his hopes for a remarkable fifth win in his last seven events with a 69.

Martin missed the halfway cut in his first seven tournaments on The 2009 Race to Dubai and it was not until the last day of his season that he avoided a trip to last week's Qualifying School.

He has still had only one top ten finish as a professional, but his 63 matched the lowest round of his career and he played the last eight holes in six under to go clear.

Els needs to repeat his 2005 victory at Leopard Creek to extend a remarkable record of at least one win every year since 1990.

He would have been only one behind but for three bogeys and said: "They were very soft bogeys - two three-putts and a pretty basic up and down that I didn’t do.

"But I feel like I’m playing well enough to shoot some really good numbers."

Molinari's best win came two weeks ago when he teamed up with his brother Francesco to give Italy their first-ever Omega Mission Hills World Cup success.

They are now 40th and 59th in the Official Golf World Rankings, with Edoardo the lower-ranked of the two and looking to climb into the top 50 in the next two weeks so that he too will play in the Masters Tournament at Augusta in April.

Not that it would be his debut - he was there three years ago as the US Amateur champion, but shot 80-77 and missed the cut by nine shots.

Molinari turned professional later the same season, but after struggling to establish himself on The European Tour his recent form has been a revelation.

He won three times in topping The Challenge Tour standings and then beat last year's European Number One Robert Karlsson in a play-off for the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan last month.

First round leader Ulrich Van den Berg followed up his opening 64 with only a 72 and is now joint fourth with fellow South African Charl Schwartzel and Swede Pelle Edberg.

Defending champion Richard Sterne came back into the picture with a 66 for six under, while there was an added distraction apart from the wildlife in the adjoining Kruger National Park.

Ash from a nearby sugar plantation then swept across the course and greenkeeping staff were called on to sweep it away.

Martin admitted: “I was a bit surprised by this. I planned to just come here with my sister and see the animals and have a holiday. So far I like this place a lot!”

He will be paired with Els in the third round and commented: “I’ve heard a couple of things about that guy. It should be a great experience.”

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1MARTIN BENAVIDES, PabloESP18-17
2SCHWARTZEL, CharlRSA18-16
3HANSEN, AndersDEN18-14
T4MAYBIN, GarethNIR18-12
T4STERNE, RichardRSA18-12
T4ROCK, RobertENG18-12
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