Sunday 21 January 2018

McGrane, Hoey well off pace

Piet Van Wyckenz

FINISH ahead of the British Open champion and you'd reckon on having a good chance in any tournament -- unless your name is Damien McGrane or Michael Hoey.

True, both players did score better than Louis Oosthuizen, winner of the Open at St Andrews in the summer, over the first two rounds but there was no glory to be claimed in that achievement.

Oosthuizen slumped out of the Alfred Dunhill championship at Leopard Creek when his second-round 71, which was a five-shot improvement on his day-one score, wasn't good enough to keep him in the tournament. A 147 total left the South African on the wrong side of the cut, which came at 146.

McGrane's 73 for 145 earned the Meath native the right to play the week-end, while Northern Ireland's Hoey survived on the bubble, shooting 74 for 146.

Gary Murphy and Jonathan Caldwell made their exits on 147 (74, 73) and 156 (77, 79) respectively.

From an Irish point of view, McGrane and Hoey need a good round today if they are to make a meaningful push for a big cheque this weekend because at the business end of the leaderboard there is a hungry pack chasing birdies and eagles.

Hats off to overnight leader Michael Anthony of South Africa. The rookie 25-year-old, a big baseball fan, dealt brilliantly with the pressure of setting the pace to shoot 69 and lead by two shots on nine-under-par 135.

Ranked 890 in the world, Anthony is barely a year into his professional career but he handled himself like a veteran. His target for the day was to shoot a second successive sub-70 round and in achieving that goal he left fellow South Africans Alex Haindl and Dawie van der Walt along with Englishman Robert Rock in joint second place on 137.

It was not as tidy a performance as Anthony might have liked, with three bogies mixed in with six birdies, but he had no complaints.

Comfortable

"I got off to a pretty good start and that took some of the pressure off and from there I kicked on," said Anthony. "I felt comfortable out there and there was a sense of belonging for me."

Round of the day belonged to 27-year-old Haindl from Bloemfontein, who savaged the course with a bogey-free 66, which meant he zoomed up 26 places on the leaderboard. His round included eagles on the par-five 15th and par-five second, and for good measure he threw in two birdies.

"I hit nice hybrids in for my eagles -- on the front edge on 15 where I sank quite a nice putt, and I hit it to about seven feet on two," said Haindl.

"I three-putted once, and I missed quite a few six-footers. The greens are quite difficult -- there's quite a bit of grain in them. But the rest of my game's been good."

This is still anybody's tournament with 16 players, including defending champion Pablo Martin of Spain, within five shots or less of the lead.

Martin likes the course and has positive memories of last year. His 70 yesterday for 139 left him four off the pace and, as he shakes off the jet lag incurred on his flight from New York, he fancies his chances.

Meanwhile, Oosthuizen admitted that he is mentally weary from the aftermath of the victory at St Andrews and the ankle injury that has restricted his tournament play since July.

"The Open win has definitely sunk in, I've been feeling drained for the last five months," he said. "The year is getting very long.

"I had a very difficult schedule with the Sunshine Tour at the end too. You want to do everything, but it's tough being mentally tired. It makes it difficult to play well, it gets to you in the end."

The Alfred Dunhill Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 2, 1.0

Irish Independent

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