But as he bids this weekend to lift the trophy again and join an exclusive club of players (none other than Tiger Woods, Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson are currently the only members of the club) to win the same European Tour event on five or more occasions, there are a bunch of par-busting “birdie machines” intent on dethroning him in the third and fourth rounds today and tomorrow.
At the front of the queue is SA Open champion and Sunshine Tour Order of Merit leader Brandon Stone who sensationally eagled Leopard Creek’s treacherous par-5 18th hole, with its island green, with a booming drive, and a peach of a six-iron to eight feet before rolling in the putt for a round of 66 to put him on 11-under-par for the tournament and at the top of the leaderboard.
Schwartzel signed for a four-under-par 68 to be 10-under at the halfway mark, in joint second place with England’s Chris Hanson who birdied the last to equal the day's best 65.
The hugely talented Stone, coming off joint second place in last week's Cape Town Open at Royal Cape, was plagued by back pain
throughout the round Friday and had to have physio (for the 10 minutes that is allowed) after nine holes. “The back was a bit sore from the start and by the time I got to 18 I felt the tee-shot was the last I had in me. But I hit the best drive of the day.
"Charl’s got the history in this tournament but I’m one shot clear of
him and my goal is to keep that lead until Sunday afternoon.”
"I don't know what the physio did for Brandon's back, but it seemed to do wonders for his putting," quipped Stone's father Kevin, who watched his son hole birdie putts at 10 and 12 although something went wrong at 13 when he missed a tiddler for par. The eight-footer at 18 that found the back of the cup, however, more than cancelled out that one little blemish.
Stone, clearly, is the young pretender to the throne, but then there’s George Coetzee who raced to the turn on the par-35 outward loop in just 29 strokes Friday – courtesy of six birdies – and he is on nine-under 135 along with veteran Keith Horne who made four straight birdies from the 13th en route to a 66.
“Everything is pretty solid, and I’m enjoying the game although I did get angry out there with a double-bogey at 17 but overall I’ve been playing with a lot of freedom,” said Coetzee.
Branden Grace, Thomas Aiken, Jean Hugo, France’s Benjamin Hebert and Alexander Bjork of Sweden are all very much in the mix at eight under going into Saturday’s third round.
Schwartzel has been simply magnificent over the years at Leopard Creek in the Alfred Dunhill Championship and in the 44 rounds he has played here, 40 have been under par and he is a cumulative 132 under par.
Astonishly good golf, really.
And Friday’s double-bogey five at the par-3 seventh hole, his 16th of the day as he started at No 10, brought to an end 43 holes here without dropping a shot – taking into account his heroics last year.
“This morning was a little tougher than usual because there was a tricky wind out there, but overall I think I played well," said Schwartzel.
"I gave myself a fair amount of chances, and made some nice bonus putts,” he added, referring to a 50-footer up the hill for
birdie at the par-4 fourth hole, and a 30-footer down the hill for another gain at the par-3 fifth hole.
“I mean, I’m right there. Maybe I can hit it a little better, and time it a bit better. Hopefully the long game will really click into place this weekend. But this game of golf is not a game of perfection, so I’ve done well with what I’ve had so far.”
Those monster putts Charl rolled in were made with a putter with a gold coloured head and called an Anser. The Anser then was the answer to the man with the golden putter – oh, oh Charl!
Original source: Eagle gives Stone Leopard Creek lead