Eleven months after crashing to an 88 and joint last place in the South African Open, Lyle Rowe had the thrill of leading the event at Serengeti today.
The 24-year-old from Port Elizabeth leapt ahead of overnight front-runners Steven O’Hara and Jbe Kruger – both late starters in the second round – when he eagled the long eighth and began for home with back-to-back birdies.
Little-known Rowe, with a world ranking of 1,388th, moved to eight under par, one ahead of his fellow South African Kruger and Scot O’Hara.
Among the players he also led was former number one Ernie Els. The defending champion, seeking a sixth victory in the championship, had opened with a three under par 69 and by adding a birdie at the 603-yard 11th, his second, was in joint 15th place.
Former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson, desperately in need of a top four finish to try to preserve his European Tour membership after slumping to 133rd on the money list, kept his hopes alive with three birdies in his first eight holes.
They took the Mansfield golfer, nine times a runner-up on the circuit without ever winning, into a six-way tie for fourth on six under, but he then finished the back nine with a bogey.
Rowe, who had to come through qualifying at the start of the week, bogeyed the 13th and 16th, but in between came two more birdies and he then produced a superb approach to within three feet of the final flag.
Holing the birdie putt gave him a six under par 66 and a nine under halfway total of 135.
Compatriot Thomas Aiken had become his closest challenger by then, while Wilson was six under and joint sixth with two to go and Scot Lloyd Saltman, also fighting for his Tour card, joined him with an eagle at the eighth.
Els was on the same mark after an eventful start to the outward half. The 42-year-old, striving to climb back into the world’s top 50, birdied the first and second, bogeyed the next two, but then made further birdies at the fifth and sixth.