(Reuters) - Four-times major winner Ernie Els celebrated his 45th birthday in style, firing a five-under-par 65 to grab a two-shot lead at the halfway stage of the Hong Kong Open on Friday.
The South African started the day two shots behind overnight leader Jyoti Randhawa before sinking four birdies in five holes from the 13th to reach nine under for the tournament, two shots ahead Raphael Jacquelin, Scott Hend and Cameron Smith.
“I played quite nicely and 65 is what I needed to do,” said Els, who had two more birdies to offset a lone bogey on the par-four fourth, something he blamed on a lapse of concentration.
”The fourth hole was a bit of a bummer but, you know, I feel like my game’s right there.
“I‘m looking forward to the rest of the week and obviously in a good position,” Els said as he prepared for a quiet birthday celebration.
“I won’t have any alcohol to celebrate but I’ll have a bit of cake and relax back at the hotel and see what we do for dinner tonight.”
Smith matched Els’ 65 while the big-hitting Hend helped his cause with a bogey-free 66 that included two birdies on each nine of the Fanling course being used for the co-sanctioned European and Asian Tour event.
“It’s one of those golf courses where you can’t overpower the golf course,” he said. “You just have to take your ticket and wait for your number to come around before you make a birdie and that’s how you have to look at it.”
India’s Randhawa, who opened with a 64, struggled to a 70 to fall into a share of fifth place with 10 other players.
Defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez, battling a stomach bug, fired 70 to miss the cut on two-over.
“These two days, I walk the golf course like a phantom,” the four-time champion admitted. “My condition is not 100 percent. Of course, I will come back next year. I love this place.”
Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty; Editing by John O'Brien