The phrase goes, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,” but compatriots Steve Webster and Robert Rock combatted the afternoon heat in South Africa to remain in the hunt for the Alfred Dunhill Championship at a sweltering Leopard Creek.
After early-starters Charl Schwartzel and Grégory Bourdy posted respective rounds of 64 and 65 to surge into a four-shot lead at 13 under par, Webster and Rock knew they had their work cut out to make any in-roads into the leaderboard playing in the afternoon session, with temperatures reaching up above 30 degrees Celsius in Mpumalanga.
One back overnight after a five under par 67 on Thursday, Webster had a solid if somewhat less spectacular second day in a round that featured two birdies on the front nine and a further pair coming home, with just the one dropped shot at the par four 11th leaving the 37 year old five shots off the lead in tied fourth place with the weekend to come.
“The scoring was good today; I got here and two people were 13 under so I was just trying to close the gap,” said Webster, who has continued the form that saw that saw him only narrowly pipped to the inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship at a second sudden-death play-off hole in Durban last week.
“I played really well today but just didn’t quite make the putts. I’m hitting it great off the tee and the irons are good, so I’m looking forward to the weekend. I’m not thinking towards Sunday, I’ve just got to play my game and see what happens.
“But I think on this course the more you play it, the easier it is to score. That’s probably why Schwartzel is scoring so well – he knows where the pins are going to be and he’s got a good feel for the greens.”
Rock, meanwhile, had a frustrating opening three holes where he failed to convert some makeable opportunities, before the 35 year old reeled off a hat-trick of birdies from the fourth as 30, 25 and 15 foot putts all dropped in succession.
Fine wedge approaches followed at the 11th and 13th to lead to two further gains but it was after that point that the two-time European Tour champion – famed for his aversion towards headwear – began to suffer a little in the South African summertime.
“I missed a really short putt for par on 14 and by that point I was starting to feel the heat,” said Rock, who opened with a three under par 69 in the first round.
“Over the last few holes I really struggled and felt a bit of sun-stroke coming on. I guess that’s why you should wear a hat!
“It was one of the days I did wish I had one with me as I was wilting a bit so I scrambled in pretty well from that point. I made a birdie at 15 and then pars at the others – which was a good effort considering how I was feeling. I couldn’t really concentrate properly, was making loads of mistakes and generally not thinking properly about my shots.
“But I played well on the front nine and made a bit of progress from yesterday so I’ll take it.”
Finishing with a four under par 68 to sit six behind leaders Bourdy and Schwartzel in tied sixth place with 36 holes to play, Rock knows that the chasing pack – himself included – will need the in-form South African to have a wholesale reversal in form to have even a chance of halting another march to victory by the Johannesburg man, but the former teaching professional said he intended to “push him hard”.
There was some amount of interest, too, in the bright red glove Rock was sporting on Friday, and the Lichfield man admitted it was their unique aesthetic that attracted him to the brand.
“It’s a new contract with a company called G4 and they make coloured gloves,” he said. “They offered me a deal and I thought, ‘Coloured gloves? That’s a bit interesting, that’s a bit ‘70s’, so I thought why not? But they’re pretty cool, I’m enjoying them so far!”
And asked whether he would consider a hat deal following his sun-based toils on Friday, Rock replied: “Maybe an exclusive one, just for this country…”
Until then, Robert Rock: Mad man and Englishman…