Sheffield’s Danny Willett is firmly in the hunt at the Joburg Open despite the return of his lower back problem.
The 26-year-old Sheffield golfer was hampered by the injury, that kept him out for three months last year, during his opening round on Thursday, but he still negotiated the tougher East Course in 69 shots.
He went four better yesterday on the easier West Course to post a 65 that moved him to nine under.
Former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari and Scotland’s Craig Lee head into the weekend at the head of the field.
With three places at the Open up for grabs, along with a first prize of £170,000, the leaderboard is bunched at the European Tour event, with nine further players within two shots of the leaders.
For Lee, there could be no greater incentive, having never played in a major championship, and he followed his opening 65 with a four-under-par 67 on the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington club’s West Course. That took the 36-year-old long-time qualifying school regular to 11-under 132, having played his first round on the par-72 East Course in seven under par.
“The goal was to not fall back and there’s a strong field behind you, so it was important that I didn’t slip back,” said Lee.
Molinari began his week with a seven-under 64 on the West Course, and followed it up with a four-under 68 on the East Course to stay out in front.
In closest attendance to the leaders after 36 holes were England’s David Horsey and South African George Coetzee, one shot back.
Horsey enjoyed an eight-under 63 on the West Course and is relishing the battle for Open places, as well as this weekend’s title.
“It’s an added bonus,” said Horsey, who, like Willett, is part of Graham Walker’s stable of players at The Oaks in York.
“I think it’s a good system, a good change from the R&A to do that. It makes the qualifying a bit fairer and spreads it out over a longer period rather than making it a 36-hole sprint. It’s at the back of my mind at the moment, but it’s certainly a bonus to consider near the end of the week.”
Yorkshire’s Simon Dyson is among those who cannot earn a place in the Open at Royal Liverpool through this tournament, having failed to make the cut. He posted succerssive rounds of 70.
Hull’s Richard Finch was also on the 140 mark and heading for home after rounds of 71 and 69.
Harrogate’s John Parry fared even worse on 146 (72 74).