Bekker chips in twice to extend SA Open lead

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He chipped in twice during the second round on Friday of the South African Open Championship at Gary Player Country Club, and Oliver Bekker consolidated his position at the top of the leaderboard after a five-under-par 67.

He must have had visions of a repeat of his first round, when he made three birdies in a row to start, as he birdied the first hole in the second round. But he dropped a shot on the second, and he battled to get his putts to the hole all the way until the eighth. He rolled in a 30-footer for birdie there, and it was all back on track for the first-round leader. He added four birdies on his homeward nine, including two from chip-ins on 14 and 16.

“They were easy chips, to be fair,” said Bekker. On 14, his approach skipped just through the green, and was resting behind two sprinkler heads. His delicate chip bounced the ball on the green, and it never left the hole as it tracked all the way in. On the par-three 16th, he flew the green with his tee shot, and had a slightly longer chip which also never left the hole as it died in.

He had a three-stroke edge over Justin Harding and the man who shared the first-round lead with him, Neil Schietekat. Harding had a 67 of his own, his bogey-free, and Schietekat carded a two-under-par 70.

It was a day on which Bekker looked every inch the man to catch in the tournament, as his work off the tee, his approaches to the green and then his work on and around the greens were all irreproachable. The chip-ins came as just reward for that kind of consistency in the face of tough conditions.

“The wind was constantly changing,” he said. “For instance, four was playing into the wind, and then five, which goes in the opposite direction, was also playing into the wind. On nine, I left my approach a long way short, and while it wasn’t a good shot, the wind also seemed to have an effect on it. The same thing happened on 17, when I hit a good drive, and my approach up the hill ended up way short in the bunker.”

It was his driving under difficult conditions which set the platform for his performance. “It his all 14 fairways today,” he said, “and that gives me a lot of confidence going in to the weekend.” Add to that some wonderful putting – admittedly two chip-ins help that statistic – and you have a recipe for a great performance. He had 24 putts in his second round, despite having eight two-putts compared to the five he had in the first.

Two shots behind Schietekat and Harding in a share of fourth place on seven-under were Daniel van Tonder, Lyle Rowe and Hennie du Plessis. Another two shots back, and rounding out the top 10, were Keenan Davidse, Shaun Norris, Hennie O’Kennedy, Bryce Easton and leading amateur Yurav Premlall.

Defending champion Christiaan Bezuidenhout had a poor one-over 72 and is on one-under for the tournament in a share of 30th.