DURBAN, South Africa – Four-time winner Ernie Els will take a two-shot lead into a marathon last day of the South African Open, where all of the country’s golf stars rose into contention on Saturday for the 100th national title.
Els’ second straight 65, a flawless second round of 7 under par, lifted him to the top of the leaderboard at 14-under 130, two strokes clear of Retief Goosen, who finished with a 68 to be on 12 under.
That means South Africa’s big two – Els and Goosen – will play the final 36 holes on Sunday with 19-year-old Frenchman Romain Wattel, who turned professional after he won a European Challenge Tour event as an amateur in his hometown of Strasbourg in September.
Wattel carded a 6-under 66 to lie third, one stroke behind Goosen, a two-time champion.
But Wattel was surrounded on a leaderboard packed with a crowd-pleasing array of South Africa’s best talent.
A stroke behind Wattel, four shots off the pace, were British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen (67) and Charl Schwartzel (69).
And another who came back into the hunt was Tim Clark, who has won twice previously at Durban Country Club. His 67 put him seven shots behind Els.
While Els looked at ease with his game, putting effectively on difficult greens, Oosthuizen entertained the crowds with a gutsy fightback after three bogeys in his opening eight holes.
He made a birdie on nine and an eagle on 10 to gain momentum around the turn, dropped a shot on the 11th, and then made four more birdies on his way home, closing in 31 shots.
“The errors I made were a bit silly, but I’m taking the back nine that I had,” Oosthuizen said.
He gained a lot of the momentum from playing partner James Kingston, the 2007 champion, who had the best round of the day with his 8-under 64.
“I think I was playing a bit off James,” Oosthuizen said. “He was playing unbelievably and I think we inspired each other.”
Kingston’s round lifted him to 7 under for the tournament, together with Clark and eight others.
But chasing down Els will not be easy.
“I have made the putts when I needed to,” Els said. “The way the greens are this week, you can even hit good putts and still miss. But it’s the same for everybody and I’m just trying to cope like everybody else.”