Clarke's African hopes look gone with the wind
IT should have come as no surprise to see British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen come sailing to the fore on a windswept day at the seaside.
As he proved at St Andrews last July, Oosthuizen is pretty handy when the sea breezes blow, so he cut a menacing figure at East London yesterday as he swept to within one stroke of the lead at the Africa Open with a second-round six-under-par 67.
Sadly, there also was a touch of deja vu about Darren Clarke's performance yesterday.
The 42-year-old Ulster veteran coped as nicely as one might expect with winds which gusted up to 35mph, hitting 15 greens in regulation. Yet he'd one of those white-knuckle days with the putter.
He'd opened with an encouraging 69 on Thursday but much of that good work was undone yesterday as Clarke took an intensely frustrating 36 putts in his second-round 75. This sent him tumbling down the leaderboard into a share of 42nd on two-under with fellow Ulsterman Gareth Maybin, who had little to write home about in his level-par round of 73.
A couple of closing bogeys on 17 and 18 would have done little to improve the taste of Clarke's dinner, but his playing companion, Oosthuizen, feasted on delicious optimism last night after a thoroughly fulfilling day on a lovely, old-fashioned seaside course.
"There was a lot of shot-making, which I like," he said with that gap-toothed smile when asked about playing in the blustery conditions. "Like from 100 metres out, you take a seven-iron, or something like that. I still think there were quite a few birdies out there today."
Oosthuizen amply demonstrated that. After opening with an eagle three on the 507-yard first, he scooted through the turn in five-under after chipping in from just off the front of the ninth green for his third birdie of the day.
The South African landed another couple (as many as Clarke made all day) on the back nine, while just one bogey, at 17, blighted his card. "I just hit the wrong type of shot off the tee there," Oosthuizen explained. "I didn't have the greatest lie with the chip and I didn't hit the greatest chip either. I hit a good putt but it didn't go in."
That bogey cost Oosthuizen a share of the lead and he went into the weekend in a tie for fourth place on nine-under with compatriot Jaco van Zyl and England's Ross McGowan.
Yet leaders Markus Brier (42) of Austria, Miles Tunnicliffe (42) of England and 22-year-old South African prospect Branden Grace also professed their preference for playing in the wind.
Brier, who won back his Tour card at Q-School, certainly proved it with the low round of the day, a sweet 66 which featured an eagle three at 11, his second hole, eight birdies and three bogeys, two of them at five and nine sandwiching a hat-trick of birdies.
Tunnicliffe, a two-time Tour winner who missed out on regaining full playing credentials for 2011 by one tantalising shot at Q-School, carded a four-under 69 after a superb opening patch when he made five birdies in a row on the first five holes.
"I wasn't quite expecting that," he laughed. "I hit some really good shots and rolled the ball in nicely." It came undone a little with two bogeys before the turn and two more on 15 and 16, but Tunnicliffe waited out the storm and then chipped in on the 18th to put himself into a share of the lead.
Grace, runner-up to 2009 champion Retief Goosen, also posted a 69, while title holder Charl Schwartzel was tied eighth on seven-under after a second-round 70. Pre-tournament favourite Goosen missed the cut by two on two-over after a level-par 73 yesterday.
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