Ernie Els boosted his bid for a fifth South African Open title here yesterday with a second successive five-under-par 67 to move within two shots of the lead after the second round. Frenchman Michael Lorenzo-Vera, who started at the 10th, reeled off five birdies in six holes from the first on his way to a 65 and 12-under total to sit atop the leaderboard.
Sitting alongside the "Big Easy" were fellow South African Charl Schwartzel (65), Ireland's Damien McGrane (64) and Briton Lee Westwood (68). "I'm really up for it," Els said. "I struggled just a little with my rhythm at the start of the round but I got into it. I'm fresh after my three-week break. I'm in with a lot of guys but I'll take that. I feel good about the weekend." Lorenzo-Vera, chasing his first European Tour win, was also upbeat about his chances as long as the wind stayed away at the Pearl Valley Golf Estates on the Western Cape.
"Last year I did well here but I went on holiday over the weekend when the wind came up," he joked. "Actually that has happened a lot to me. If the wind stays away I will have a good chance to challenge on Sunday." The 23-year-old, who described himself as an "accident waiting to happen", tore ligaments in his right wrist after a fall two months ago. He was aiming to use this week to test his grip and swing but his challenge is going better than he could have hoped.
Westwood had set the early pace with five birdies against a lone dropped shot at the par-four 17th. "I just played really solid again," said the former European No 1. "When I missed the green the short game was really good. I've not won this year and it would be nice to end with a victory."
Twice US Open champion Retief Goosen carded a 66 to lie on eight under while the world No 8, the in-form Henrik Stenson shot a 71 and was in a tie for 44th on three under .
*Seve Ballesteros has begun a course of chemotherapy as he continues his recovery from a brain tumour. Ballesteros returned to his home in northern Spain yesterday from Madrid, where he was released from hospital on 9 December. "Today I have started my first chemotherapy session," Ballesteros said. "My thought is to rest and follow the neurosurgeons' advice."