Butterfield benefits from home comforts

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Andrew Butterfield had his living-room carpet to thank for helping him to within two shots of the lead at the halfway stage of the South African Open here yesterday.

The Englishman added a second-round 69 to his opening 66 at Durban Country Club to finish alongside his compatriot Jonathan Lomas on 135, nine-under-par.

The South African James Kingston upstaged his more illustrious countrymen Retief Goosen and Ernie Els, defying the strong afternoon winds blowing in off the Indian Ocean to card a 67 to end the day on 11 under. Goosen was still within striking distance, four shots back after a 70, but Els bogeyed two of his last three holes and had to settle for a 69 and two-under-par total, nine shots off the pace.

Butterfield owed much of his performance to a short game as hot as the weather, his skills honed in far colder climes back home in Kent over the winter. The 29-year-old, who led a European Tour event for the first time for much of the day after gaining his card with seventh place at the qualifying school in November, said: "I'm very pleased. It was down to a good short game and putting, I had 27 putts today and only 25 yesterday. It's been frosted over at home and the putting green was diabolical, so I only did a bit of practice on the living room carpet and down the range."

Els probably enjoyed the weather but precious little else after wasting a good chance to get back into contention. Winner of the event the last time it was held at Durban Country Club in 1998, Els had struggled to a one-over-par 73 on Thursday, nine shots behind the first-round leader, Carl Pettersson.

The world No 5 had begun the week in optimistic mood, speaking of his desire to win more major titles after a disappointing 2001 season when he failed to win on the US Tour for the first time in seven years.

That optimism began to look well founded as the double US Open champion moved swiftly through the field during his second round. Enjoying the calmer morning conditions, Els birdied the 12th, his third hole, eagled the par-five 14th, and then birdied the 15th to move to three-under. For the second day running, however, he failed to take advantage of the par four 18th, at 273 yards easily reachable for all the field – playing partner David Dixon from Somerset making an eagle two – and the easiest hole on the course on the first day.

Another birdie did arrive on the third and, at four under for the tournament, Els was within four shots of the lead at that stage. Most of the hard work was undone though in the closing three holes, Els dropping shots at the seventh and ninth to drop back to two under par, and back to nine shots off the lead.

"I let a good round slip away, I turned a 65 into a 69," was a disgruntled Els' only comment. Goosen, who described his play as "terrible" yesterday but was saved by a superb short game, said: "I hit the ball a lot better today, but I struggled with my putting. Perhaps if I can combine the two on the weekend, who knows? I had my chances to play better but I didn't use them."

The defending champion, Mark McNulty, scraped through to the last two rounds on the cut mark of level par, but last year's runner-up Justin Rose dropped three shots in his last two holes to miss out on two over.

SOUTH AFRICAN OPEN (Durban) Leading second-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 133 J Kingston (SA) 66 67. 135 A Butterfield 66 69; J Lomas 68 67. 136 M Maritz (SA) 72 64; T Clark (SA) 66 70. 137 A Atwal (India) 70 67; A Roestoff (SA) 66 71; R Goosen (SA) 67 70; A Forsyth 66 71. 138 *C Schwartzel (SA) 71 67; J M Singh (India) 69 69; G Muller (SA) 72 66; M Kirk (SA) 69 69; D Botes (SA) 68 70; S Webster 68 70; P Lawrie 68 70. 139 C Cevaer (Fr) 69 70; A Cruse (SA) 71 68; J Hugo (SA) 68 71; D Park 71 68; R Wessels (SA) 68 71.

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