Charl Schwartzel has won 11 times on the European Tour, but never his national open. Not that he hasn’t played well; he boasts a pair of runner-up finishes and four other top-5s at the South African Open.
Through 36 holes of this season’s edition at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg, Schwartzel holds a one-shot lead after Friday’s 8-under 63 on the Bushwillow Course rocketed him to 12 under.
“I would love to win this one and I’ve given myself a good chance,” Schwartzel said.
Schwartzel entered this week ranked 80th in the Official World Golf Ranking, his worst ranking since 2008. Since his T-15 showing at the last SA Open, held this past January, the South African has just four top-10s and one other top-20 in 22 worldwide starts.
But he’s looked comfortable at home through two rounds, especially on the back nine Friday. Heading into the par-4 11th hole at 6 under, Schwartzel birdied four of his next six holes before holing out for eagle at the par-5 17th hole.
“It’s probably the most consistent I’ve driven the ball and I felt it,” Schwartzel said. “In practice I’ve been doing the same. It’s just nice to do it in a tournament now.”
Zambia’s Madalitso Muthiya is alone in second, one shot clear of South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Zander Lombard, and American Kurt Kitayama, who shot 69 Friday on Bushwillow and is a week removed from his first European Tour victory, at the Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open. Oosthuizen, who like Schwartzel has never won this event, followed his opening 63 with a 70 on the tougher Firethorn Course.
Oosthuizen also is the only player within three shots of the lead who is already qualified for next summer’s Open Championship. The top three finishers this week, not already exempt, will receive invites to Royal Portrush.
Ernie Els, a three-time SA Open winner, is 5 under after an even-par 71 on Firethorn. He is tied with his nephew, Auburn junior and reigning British Amateur champion Jovan Rebula.