Golfer Jbe Kruger leads tribute to Nelson Mandela at Hong Kong Open
The only South African in the field honours his late president with black ribbons ... and climb to top of the leaderboard
The Hong Kong Open will pay tribute to Nelson Mandela on Saturday with organisers saying players will be allowed to wear a black ribbon if they wish, to celebrate the life of South Africa's first black president.
One person who did not need an invitation to wear black was Jbe Kruger.
The only South African in the field this year was wearing two ribbons on Friday, as he stormed to the top of the leaderboard with a crisp 66 to total seven-under 133 and take a one-shot lead.
"Our country has lost a real-life hero and it is a real honour for me to be wearing this [black ribbons]," said Kruger.
"Mandela was one of the best presidents South Africa has ever seen and I don't think our country will ever have another leader like him."
Kruger woke up Friday morning to the sad news from home that the man who emerged from 27 years in prison to become South Africa's president and lead his country out of apartheid had died.
"We all knew it was coming. He had been sick and was in hospital for a long time. His death will affect everyone, black and white, in my country," said Kruger as he faced the media, who seemed more interested in his reaction to Mandela's death than on his golf.
Kruger began the day three shots behind overnight leader David Higgins of Ireland. It was only on his back nine that he began to make waves as the birdies started to roll in. He knocked in six birdies in seven holes, including four in a row from the 11th to the 14th, to move relentlessly up the leaderboard.
Kruger attributed his hot putter to divine strength. "I think God took care of that. I probably swung it the best I have in a long time but when the putts began to drop like that you have to know it was in God's hands, all the glory goes to him."
Kruger leads Welshman Stuart Manley by one shot and with a whole bunch of players behind them, it will make for an interesting final two rounds at the 55th edition of the Hong Kong Open.
Two shots behind Kruger are Australian Wade Ormsby, Germany's Alex Cejka and Shiv Kapur of India.
Manley could have tied for the lead if not for a dropped shot at his final hole, the 10th, where a poor approach shot found water, leaving him with no option but to take a penalty drop.
"It wasn't the finish I wanted," Manley said. "But I'm still placed well and have to remain positive."
Defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez added a 67 to his first round of 70 to total three-under 137 and lie four shots off the pace.
The Spaniard, who is bidding to win his fourth Hong Kong crown, held the lead after his 13th hole at six under, but then it began to unravel and he finished with two bogeys.
"I was putting okay, but suddenly lost it. Of course, I would have liked to have finished closer [to the leaders], but there are still two rounds to play," said Jimenez.
China's big-name players all failed to make the cut. Liang Wenchong, the mainland's number one, Zhang Lianwei and teenage prodigy Guan Tianlang are all headed home early. Joining them was the colourful American John Daly.
Timothy Tang will keep local interest alive after just making the cut with a one-over 141.