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Thriston Lawrence leads as Ashley Chesters chases Joburg title amid Covid chaos

There has been a spate of withdrawals from the first event of the 2021-22 season as British and Irish players scrambled to secure flights home.

South Africa’s Thriston Lawrence opened up a commanding lead in the Joburg Open as the new DP World Tour era suffered a nightmare start off the course.

News emerged late on Thursday evening that South Africa was to be added to the UK Government’s red travel list following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in the country.

That led to a spate of withdrawals from the first event of the 2021-22 season as British and Irish players scrambled to secure flights home which arrived before 0400GMT on Sunday to avoid the need to quarantine in a hotel.

 

The Sunshine Tour and DP World Tour then announced that the Joburg Open would be played to a finish on Sunday as scheduled, although the event was later cut to 54 holes – ending on Saturday – to aid the travel plans of those looking to make a sharp exit from South Africa following news of the new variant.

Next week’s South African Open Championship at Sun City, meanwhile, will go ahead solely as a Sunshine Tour event, with a reduced prize fund of 500,000 US dollars.

And the Alfred Dunhill Championship, which was due to be played at Leopard Creek from December 9-12, has been cancelled following long discussions with the tournament sponsors.

A second consecutive 65 at Randpark gave Lawrence a total of 12 under par and a four-shot lead over compatriot Zander Lombard, with England’s Ashley Chesters another stroke back.

Chesters added a 69 to his opening 66 as he battled to maintain focus on the prospect of a first European Tour title and one of the three places on offer in next year’s 150th Open at St Andrews for players not already exempt who finish in the top 10.

 

“Hopefully more of the same over the weekend,” the world number 517 from Shropshire said. “There’s all sorts of other things going on so I’ve got to try and work out what’s going on with that.

“But on the golf course hopefully I can just keep doing what I’ve been doing.

“Today’s round was very similar to yesterday, hit plenty of fairways and greens, didn’t hole quite as many putts but it was nice. The course was actually playing quite long and I seemed to wear out the five iron; I had a five iron into four or five holes in a row, but with the greens a bit softer it was fine.”

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Scotland’s David Drysdale was one of the few UK players not scrambling to get home thanks to a pre-planned holiday with his wife and caddie Vicky.

 

“There wasn’t a seat to be had by the time we found out what had happened,” Drysdale told The Scotsman. “A lot of the guys were panicking, but we thought, ‘What’s the point?’. We are staying with a mate in Joburg.

“We are planning to come home after Christmas before heading to the UAE in January, but it might be that we look at something different now as I’d rather be free to walk around Dubai than stuck in a quarantine hotel in the UK for 10 days.”

A weather delay of two and a half hours meant more than 60 players were unable to complete the second round on schedule on Friday, with Drysdale one under par with three holes to play.

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