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Lawrence leads Joburg Open as players flee before flight ban

November 26, 2021 GMT

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African golfer Thriston Lawrence shot another 6-under 65 to finish his second round atop the leaderboard of the Joburg Open on Friday, while a large number of European players withdrew because of a new COVID-19 variant.

Lawrence was on 12-under 130 at the halfway mark to lead compatriot Zander Lombard (67) by four strokes on a day when play was again interrupted by bad weather before being suspended because of fading light. Organizers then reduced the tournament to 54 holes to allow non-South African players and staff to return home sooner. That means both the end of the second round and the third — and final — round will be played Saturday.

The tournament had already been overshadowed by news of European governments banning flights to counter the spread of a new COVID-19 variant. A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern.

The U.K. banned flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries and the 27-nation European Union later imposed its own temporary ban.

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Many of the British and Irish players scrambled to return home on Friday.

The Joburg Open marks the start of the inaugural season of the DP World Tour following the rebranding of the European Tour.

Organizers said the next two South African tournaments would also be impacted. The South African Open Championship scheduled to begin next Thursday was downgraded and won’t be a tour event, while the Alfred Dunhill Championship the following week was canceled “due to the adverse effect the travel restrictions will have on the field.”

Ashley Chesters (69) was five strokes off the lead. He was one of the few British players to complete the second round. Overnight co-leader Angel Hidalgo (71) of Spain was six shots back. South African Shaun Norris was also six strokes back after reaching 3 under with six holes left in his second round when play was suspended.

More than a dozen British and Irish golfers withdrew early Friday and the list later grew with other Europeans to more than 20.

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