Hurley lurking after second successive 68 at Challenge Tour season-opener

Mark McGowan
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Gary Hurley (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Gary Hurley continues to impress on return to professional competition after a near nine-month layoff, shooting back-to-back 68s to be well placed going into the weekend at the SDC Open in South Africa.

Playing in the morning wave on day one, the Waterford man was confident, knowing that he’d put in the work during the break from competition, but exactly how the game would hold up back in competition mode was the unknown factor. Six birdies was an excellent way to answer the question, even though he dropped in a double-bogey on a par-4, and then how he’d follow up became the next question.

And he answered impressively once again, going bogey-free and chipping in with another four birdies, maintaining pace with the leader and improving one position on the board to T15.

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“Yeah, I’m pleased,” he said. “I played really nicely actually, a lot of really good putts as well, they just didn’t go in, but I’m putting really nicely and the outcomes don’t really reflect how good I’m stroking it.

“So, yeah, I feel like there’s a low one out there for me, could have been today to be honest.”

Four shots off the lead going into the weekend, should that low one come on Saturday or Sunday, it could be a fairytale comeback but, as he’s only too aware, nothing can be taken for granted in golf.

“We don’t know, do we?” he shrugged, “tomorrow, just prepare as well as you can and let’s just be open and ready for the challenges that it presents, you know, trying to get excited about the unknown.

“That’s kind of where I’m going after. Just kind of connect to the unknown and be excited about it and not allow that to lead you.”

Unfortunately, Hurley will be the sole Irish representative teeing it up at the weekend at Zebula Golf Estates after both Ronan Mullarney and Dermot McElroy missed the cut.

Mullarney came closest to making it through to the third round, but while his maiden Challenge Tour season is not off to the start he was hoping for, there are plenty of positives that can be taken.

“It’s a tough question to ask at this stage,” he replied, shortly after signing for a level-par 72 that left him on -1 overall, quite clearly a couple of shots shy. “What am I pleased with? I don’t know, there’s a lot of things that are different over here; the grass, the altitude, obviously the heat, things like that.

“So I don’t know if I coped with it well, but I didn’t cope with it terribly. So I don’t know if that’s a silver lining.”

McElroy felt that while his game as a whole was reasonably good, poor driving was the primary reason for his two-over second-round.

“My driving was off today,” he explained. “My play was actually… I was really pleased my iron play and didn’t really convert many putts even though I hit a lot of nice putts but had a lot of lip-outs today.

“So, no real momentum and just too many bad drives.”

McElroy plans to spend the weekend sorting out what he feels must be an alignment issue with the driver before heading to Cape Town where he’s in the field for the McBain’s Whiskey Cape Town Open, but Mullarney looks set to sit that one out as the co-sanctioned event will again see heavy Sunshine Tour representation and many of the higher-ranked Challenge Tour players making their season debuts.

But leading the way at the midpoint at the SDC Open are the trio of Frenchman Alexander Levy, who set the early target at -12, before being joined by South Africa’s Louis Albertse and Rhys Enoch from Wales. They hold a one-stroke lead over Wilco Nienaber in solo fourth, with a further five players tied for fifth at -10.

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