Jamie McLeary finished with a flourish to stay in contention at the halfway stage as former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel made an ominous move towards the top of the leaderboard in the Tshwane Open.
McLeary transformed his second round at Pretoria Country Club by closing with three birdies, two of which came after play had been suspended for a spell due to the threat of lightning. The late burst salvaged a level-par 70 for the Scot, who heads into the weekend lying joint seventh on two-under, five shots behind Anthony Michael as the home player cemented his position in top spot after backing up Thursday’s 65 with a 69.
I couldn’t have played the last three holes any better... and didn’t do much wrong all day reallyJamie McLeary
Schwartzel is the closest challenger, two shots back, after the title favourite roared through the field with a best-of-the-day 64, a flawless effort that was illuminated by an eagle-3 at the 621-yard 12th. On a leaderboard dominated by South Africans, Haydn Porteous (66) and Theunis Spangenberg (71) are a shot further back alongside Daniel Im after the American carded a second successive 68.
McLeary, who had been sitting joint sixth along with Andrew McArthur and Scott Henry after they all opened with 68s, bagged two birdies in his first three holes after starting at the tenth before dropping four shots in the next six. The 34-year-old, who lives in Bonnyrigg and is attached to Marriott Dalmahoy, then followed a birdie at the first, his tenth, only to run up a double-bogey 6 at the fourth before repairing that damage in style as he finished 3-2-4.
“I couldn’t have played those last three holes any better,” said McLeary, who was on the eigthth tee, having just made the first of the three birdies, went the hooter sounded. “I hit five pretty perfect shots and some nice putts – five feet, 18 feet and nine feet – as well. Earlier, I’d got off to a good start and didn’t do too much wrong all day really apart from a couple of wide hybrids off the tee.”
Since regaining his main Tour card through finishing 15th on the Challenge Tour last season, the former European amateur No 1 has made just one cut in four starts but believes he is starting to see progress from his decision to start working with Fife-based coach Ian Muir.
“I’ve changed my set-up quite a bit over winter with Ian and it’s great, especially with driver,” added McLeary. “But the irons I’m using from last year aren’t right for me now. I need to change out all my old stuff or amend it in some way as I’m hitting a poor shot with them nearly all the time. I’m hitting a lot of shots differently than I would like just to keep them somewhere near where I’m going, but I’m happy to be sitting seventh and I’m hoping to have a big weekend and challenge for the tournament.”
While unable to retain their first-round positions, McArthur and Henry safely made it to the weekend in the co-sanctioned event between the European Tour and the Sunshine Tour, as did David Law. The last man into the field, Law is making the most of a rare opportunity at the top level, the 24-year-old Aberdonian carding a second consecutive 70 to make the cut with three shots to spare in joint 22nd.
McArthur and Henry are both two shots further back after matching 74s that were a bit of a struggle for each of them, though it will be a confidence boost for the two former Scottish amateur stars to have joined McLeary and Law in making it to the weekend. Bradley Neil (71, 74) fell two shots short of that target while David Drysdale, suffering a rare disappointment in South Africa, described rounds of 75 and 71 as a “pathetic performance”.
On the amateur front, Cawder’s Jamie Savage heads into the final round of the African Amateur Stroke-Play Championship at Leopard Creek today trying to make up a five-shot deficit on home player Albert Venter. While Venter regained top spot with a second 65 in three rounds to sit on 13-under, Savage signed for a 70 to sit joint third.