The English duo of Robert Dinwiddie and Oliver Fisher played themselves into contention on day two of the Kenya Open, but both were upstaged by local hero Ali Kimani.
Kimani, cheered on by a partisan crowd at Nairobi’s Muthaiga Golf Club, played the round of his life – a 65 featuring eight birdies – to move to seven under par, two strokes clear of Dinwiddie, Fisher and Germany’s Bernd Ritthammer.
In his four visits to the Kenya Open since turning professional in 2005 Kimani, who was taken under his wing by Markus Brier’s caddy Max Zechmann when he decided to try his luck on the Alps Tour, has only made the cut once, in 2008.
But the 26 year old is now setting his sights on going one better than his compatriot Jacob Okello, who at the 1998 Kenya Open lost out in a play-off to Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez.
Kimani got off to the perfect start with a nine iron to three feet for an opening birdie, then reeled off three consecutive birdies from the third hole before his only bogey of the day on the long sixth.
But he soon cancelled that out with another birdie at the ninth hole, before birdie putts at the tenth and 18th – both from 15 feet – rounded off a day to remember.
Kimani said: “This is definitely the best day of my career. I got off to a great start, and I just felt good out on the course. I didn’t feel nervous, even though there were lots of people watching me. I just stuck to my gameplan, and hopefully I can do the same at the weekend. I also have to say a big thank you to my caddy Francis, who helped me a lot with club selection. We’ve known each other a long time, so it’s good to have a friend on my bag.
“I’m looking forward to the next two days – I’m sure there will be lots of people coming out to watch. Golf in Kenya is getting more popular all the time, and this can only help. Hopefully I can keep calm, stick to my gameplan and make the people happy.”
Looking to prevent a first home victory since the €190,000 event joined the Challenge Tour Schedule in 1991 is Dinwiddie, who was aided by a hot putter. The highlight of his round came at the 15th hole, where he sunk a birdie putt from 35 feet.
He said: “It was another pleasing day, particularly on the greens, although I didn’t get off to the best of starts with a double bogey at the fourth. I got distracted on the tee and should’ve backed off, but ended up playing the shot and hit it way right. So I paid the penalty, but luckily I was able to make amends with some birdies on the back nine. The long putt on the 15th was a bonus, and it’s always nice to finish with a birdie, which puts me in a good position going into the weekend.
“My form’s been pretty good on the Challenge Tour so far this season – I had a decent result in Colombia, and hopefully I can follow that up with another good result here. I wasn’t really in contention to win in Colombia, but if I continue playing well and a bit of luck goes my way, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be there or thereabouts come Sunday afternoon.
“My putting will probably be the key, because that’s mainly where I struggled last year. I recently changed my putter and it seems to have done the trick, so I’m feeling much more confident about my stroke now than I was last year. My game didn’t feel a million miles away last season, which made it all the more frustrating. But I’m feeling more in control now, and hopefully that’ll show in my results. I’ve won on the Challenge Tour before so I know I’m capable, it’s just a question of going out there and proving it to myself.”
Dinwiddie’s compatriot Fisher, making his Challenge Tour debut, is also on the comeback trail after losing his playing privileges on The European Tour last season, but he showed his class with a flawless round of 66.
The youngster from Essex notched five unanswered birdies at Muthaiga Golf Club’s newly-renovated course, and will now attempt capture a maiden title since turning professional in 2006.
In stark contrast, overnight leader Jake Roos of South Africa slumped to a four over par round of 75 to tumble out of the top ten along with Sweden’s Andreas Högberg, who had trailed him by one shot after the opening round.
Högberg followed a double bogey at the ninth hole with a triple bogey at the tenth in his round of 75, whilst Roos’ round fell apart with four dropped shots on the back nine.
But it was all plain sailing for Fisher, who wrote himself into golf’s history books in 2005 when he became the youngest ever player to play in the Walker Cup.
The 21 year old got his round going with a birdie on the fourth hole following a good chip and his second birdie of the day came courtesy of a 10-foot putt at the ninth hole, before adding another three after the turn to complete a satisfying morning’s work.
Fisher said: “To be honest I probably didn’t play much better today than I did yesterday. My long game was probably a bit better, but the main difference was that the putts started to drop. It probably helped that I played in the morning, because the greens were rolling a bit better and the wind was also blowing a little less. I still struggled with the distance at times because the ball flies much further at such high altitude, but I’m starting to get used to it now.
“It’s my first Challenge Tour event, and so far I’m enjoying it. I already know a few of the guys out here from playing amateur golf with them, so it’s always nice to see a familiar face. I don’t know how the season will pan out – hopefully I’ll win a couple of times and get back onto the main Tour, but it might take a little longer than that. All I can do is play to the best of my ability, shoot as low as possible and hope it gets me the right results. The belief’s starting to come back now, and if I can keep shooting low scores, obviously the confidence will keep building.”
Ritthammer, who won the EPD Tour order of Merit last season, got off to a flying start with an eagle at his first hole, the tenth.
The German then collected three birdies and two bogeys to sign for a round of 68 which saw him join Dinwiddie and Fisher in a three-way tie for fifth, with sixth players one shot back on four under par.