Updated: 12/06/2013 19:09 | By Agence France-Presse

Mandela-inspired Kruger leads Hong Kong Open

South Africa's Jbe Kruger grabbed the outright lead at the halfway stage of the Hong Kong Open Friday, paying tribute afterwards to Nelson Mandela who he called a "real-life hero". 


Mandela-inspired Kruger leads Hong Kong Open

Defending champion Jbe Kruger of South Africa plays a shot during the Avantha Masters golf tournament in Greater Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, on March 14, 2013

Kruger added to an opening round 67 with a four-under-par 66, thanks to a scintillating putting display on the back nine that leaves him one shot clear of Stuart Manley going into the weekend.

Organisers had billed the tournament as a clash between Spanish veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez, chasing a record-equalling fourth title, and 15-year-old Chinese prodigy Guan Tianlang.

But Kruger had different ideas at the co-sanctioned European Tour and Asian Tour event, sinking seven birdies Friday while Jimenez only partially moved up the leaderboard and Guan failed to make the cut.

"Our country has lost a real-life hero," Kruger, who wore a black ribbon in memory of the anti-apartheid hero, said of Mandela after his round. 

"He was one of the best presidents I've ever seen. I think it will definitely affect white and black in our country. 

"He fought for the black South Africans but the white South Africans love him just as much.

"I don't know that our country will ever have a leader like that (again)."

Kruger certainly seemed inspired. After a shaky front nine, which included one birdie and three bogeys, the South African stepped up several gears on the inward half.

He holed putts for birdies on 11, 12, 13 and 14 before a par on 15 preceded two further birdies on the 16th and 17th.

The putter stayed hot and Kruger holed a short one for par on the last to come back in only 30 shots.

"I couldn't hit it (the ball) better. The front nine I just couldn't make anything," but then the putts started to drop he said.

"I'm probably hitting it as good as I can. If the putts go in you never know."

Kruger, who is ranked 230th in the world, said it was "fun" to be leading an event "for a change".

"I'm just enjoying it, trying to stay emotionally in a good place," he said.

Earlier, defending champion Jimenez made a charge at the $1.3 million event at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

The Spaniard, who was the early favourite to triumph on Fanling's lush fairways courtesy of being the highest-ranked player at 48, shot a three-under-par 67 to go with Thursday's par 70.

But it should have been so much better for the winner of 19 European Tour titles after he birdied six of his first 11 holes without dropping a shot.

Three bogeys saw him fall back and he sits four shots behind Kruger going into the third round.

"I'm really disappointed with the finish," Jimenez said.

Guan failed to replicate his success at this year's US Masters when he made it to the final two rounds, struggling to a 75 which left him at plus six -- five shots shy of the projected cut.

"I hit some good shots these two rounds. It's been a good opportunity and experience to play with some high-level players which really helps me," he said.

Manley, from Wales, is in second place on his own at six under, while three players are tied on five-under-par.

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