George goes second after course record
George Coetzee shot a course-record 63 at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate in the third round of the South African Open Championship on Saturday to surge into a share of second place.
The blistering round saw him reach 13-under par for the tournament going into the final day to leave him three strokes behind leader Henrik Stenson.
Stenson himself fired a respectable 69, and remains in control of the event. But it was Coetzee’s fireworks that stole the headlines on day three.
Coetzee’s assault on the Nicklaus-designed course began with consecutive birdies on the first two holes. The explosive moment came at the par-four fourth hole, as the 26-year-old holed his second shot which put him well on course for a memorable day.
“Usually when you hole out, the next shot becomes pretty tough because you expect to hole everything from there. But I think I handled it pretty well and hit a good shot on the next. I think the fact that there was a car on the line made me concentrate a bit better!
“But even after four holes today I still didn’t really see the number that I shot and I just gave it the best I could. Luckily enough for me I got the birdies that I needed,” he said.
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Coetzee amassed a remarkable nine birdies to go along with his eagle, and, other than two inconvenient bogeys on the back nine, the man from Pretoria was rampant and feels at home around the par-72 layout.
“I don’t play here often but I do come here a lot so I’m very comfortable with the surroundings. I have played here a couple of times so that’s more than any of the European guys would have.
“I enjoy the golf course -- it’s a Jack Nicklaus design and he used to hit a fade. So he sets up a lot of his golf courses for a fade, and I enjoy those kinds of courses,” he said.
For Coetzee, the key to success tomorrow will be staying patient and not getting too far ahead of himself. But one of the hurdles he needs to overcome before then is making a speech at his father’s 50th birthday celebration.
“I’ve been working very hard on keeping myself in the present, and not worrying about the result. Especially today, it felt like even when I made that bogey, usually I would feel like I have to make a birdie on the next hole. But I felt today I handled it a lot better and waited for my opportunities.
It’s great the 63, and I’m very happy, but I’ve got to get over it as soon as possible. I’m just going to try and take it one step at a time. The only worry I have tonight is making a speech at my dad’s 50th!” he joked.
Similar heroics might be required tomorrow though as Stenson looks formidable after consolidating his two-round lead with another impressive score today. The Swede made six birdies, and although three bogeys kept his competitors in the hunt, he remains content with his current position.
“Overall I’m obviously happy. I’m still in the same position, even though I got George breathing down my neck now. And Magnus, he played nicely as well today. But I’m still in good shape going into the last round, and I’m fairly happy with the way I played.
“It’s not going to be decided until late I think. But the most important thing is to take care of my own game and stick to my own game-plan. If I keep on playing well, then it’s up to them to play better than I do,” he said.
Countryman Magnus A Carlsson, who played with Stenson in the third round, compiled a largely untroubled round of 68 and a birdie on the 18th took him into a share of second going into the final day.
South African Darren Fichardt lies two further strokes adrift in fourth place. Merrick Bremner, who had a stake in the course record until today, struggled on the back nine and posted a 73 which saw him slip to nine-under overall.
South African players have a proud record in the event, and only Scotland’s Richie Ramsay has snared the trophy away from local hands since 2001. Toppling Stenson will be an enormous task though if one of the men from the Republic are to keep the trophy on local shores.