The players who took to Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course on Friday afternoon couldn’t have asked for better conditions as they attempted to reel in runaway leader Ben Campbell.
But only Andrew Dodt made a substantial dent in the New Zealander’s buffer over the field, the Queenslander grinding out a second round 2-under 70 to be four back of Campbell halfway through the 2018 Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways.
The cool Kiwi sits on top of the standings at 11-under par through 36 holes, Dodt closing that gap to three before he dropped his first shot of the week with a bogey at the par-4 14th.
Dodt holds down second at 7-under, one clear of fellow overnight leader Jarryd Felton (71) and veteran Terry Pilkadaris (68).
Nick Cullen and China’s Wu Ashun headline a host of players who share fifth on the leaderboard at 5-under, but Dodt conceded most of the afternoon wave may have missed an opportunity to make up ground on 26-year-old Campbell.
“I didn’t make a birdie on the back-9, which is a bit frustrating considering that the wind completely dropped and scoring was there to take advantage of,” Dodt told the media.
“I am quite surprised that no one did go low because it was there to take advantage of.”
The European Tour regular will be paired with Campbell in Saturday’s last group out and knows what he needs to do in order to erase the four-stroke disparity as quickly as possible.
“I probably need to stay aggressive and keep attacking,” said Dodt.
“My nature is a little bit going into a bit of a shell and get a bit defensive, so I really need to keep the foot on the accelerator and keep being aggressive.”
As if to prove Thursday’s 67 was no fluke, Campbell went one better on Friday morning with a second round 6-under 66 that catapulted him to 11-under for the week and past the overnight leading trio of Australians.
While the breeze was far friendlier on Friday than during his first round, it was the direction that caught Campbell off-guard – if only briefly.
“I think it was one of the first times I’ve ever played it in these kind of conditions. So the game plan actually changed a little bit,” Campbell told the media.
“I’ve never really played it like that, it was in the total opposite direction. There was a couple holes hitting 2‑iron instead of hitting driver and a few things like that, and vice versa.”
Having grown up in windy Wellington, Campbell wasn’t fazed.
The ultra-consistent Kiwi didn’t take long to get going on Friday morning, rolling in the first of his seven birdies from the fringe on the par-3 2nd.
By the 17th, Campbell had climbed to 12-under and was one birdie away from equalling Natadola Bay’s course record.
But a closing bogey – his first of the day and just his third through 36 holes – gave the rest of the field some respite heading into the weekend.
“I just chipped and putted. When I miss the green, I always seem to get up and down, which keeps the momentum going, so I think that’s a big key,” said Campbell.
“These greens are so good this week. I think I struggled a little bit up in Asia with the grain, getting used to chipping and putting on the grain.
“So it’s great this week, there’s none of that. I just feel a bit more comfortable.”
Headline act Ernie Els will have the leaders looking over their shoulders on the weekend, the South African catching fire on Friday afternoon after making the turn on his way to a 2-under 70.
Els stiffed his approach to the 10th hole and duly converted for birdie, before hitting the pin with his second shot on the par-5 11th on the way to an eagle.
Another birdie at the next had the four-time major champion into the red numbers for the week, Els eventually finishing at 2-under and in a share of 20th position.
Local hero and tournament host Vijay Singh faced a nervous wait on Friday afternoon, but his even-par 72 was enough to see him make the cut on the number at 4-over for the tournament.
After starting on the 10th, an eagle at the par-5 17th had Singh back to 1-over for the week.
But three bogeys in his final 10 holes had the Fijian crossing his fingers in the hope he’d make the weekend.
“The wind kind of changed direction. I’ve never played this wind, so it was kind of totally different, it was like a new golf course,” Singh said after signing his card.
“Some of the holes are playing really different. The 8th hole yesterday was just a comfortable 6‑iron. Today a lot of guys are going to be hitting hybrids.
“I’m happy with the way I played, very disappointed with the little putt I missed on the last hole, but hopefully 4-over’s going to be good enough.”
Defending champion Jason Norris dropped six shots in a disastrous six-hole stretch on his way back to the clubhouse, the lowlight a triple-bogey 7 on the downhill 5th.
He too finished at 4-over par for the week, meaning the South Australian’s title defence continues for 36 more holes.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s Siddikur Rahman didn’t take long to add to today’s highlight reel, kick starting his second round with a hole-in-one at the par-3 2nd from 156 metres with his 7-iron.