Australian Marcus Fraser carded a second round 69 to lead the Olympic Men’s Golf Competition by one shot over Thomas Pieters of Belgium in Rio de Janeiro.
Fraser, the first round leader after an opening 63, followed that up with a solid second round to lead the 60-strong field with a ten-under-par total of 132. Now the man from Melbourne can expect a strong challenge from no fewer than five Europeans – including the Champion Golfer of the Year, Henrik Stenson of Sweden – who are poised to make their move over the final 36 holes which will see the gold, silver and bronze decided at Reserva da Marapendi Golf Course on Sunday afternoon.
Fraser’s accomplished performance earned him the most slender of margins over emerging Belgian star Pieters, whose 66 lifted him to nine-under-par, one in front of Stenson, who added a 68 to his opening 66.
England’s Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, and Frenchman Gregory Bourdy, are right in the mix a further two shots behind on 136 after matching rounds of 67 and 69. A fifth European, Rafa Cabrera Bello, sustained his continent’s challenge alongside Canada’s Graham DeLaet and New Zealand’s Danny Lee, who fired a best-of-the-day 65.
Two-time Masters champion, Bubba Watson, battled his way back into contention with a terrific second round of 67, following a disappointing opening 73. On 140, two-under-par, Watson needs a strong Saturday in Rio, as does his United States team-mate, Matt Kuchar who added a 70 to his first round 69.
Fraser admitted that he felt some nerves as he set out in the second round, but was pleased with the way he stayed calm under the pressure of competing for an Olympic title. He said: “You always feel nerves, but I’ve done a really good job of controlling them over the last couple days.”
But it helped to have his best friend, Jason Wallace, caddying for him. “Obviously having my best mate on my bag to have a chat to and laugh with – and laugh at – has been good fun,” Fraser said. “We’re having a great time out there. He’s taken the week off work to come over and caddie for me. It’s a lot of fun out there with him. We’ve known each other since we were kids, ten years old.”
The looming presence of Stenson will add considerable lustre to an already exciting Olympic Games golf competition, while Rose also represents a huge medal threat as one of the elite group of major champions in the field.
Malaysia’s Danny Chia carded a 70 to lie in 37th place on one-over-par, four shots ahead of compatriot Gavin Green in 51st place.