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Golf | SA

George Coetzee © Gallo Images

George targeting success in Madiba's event



George Coetzee comes into this week’s Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS Handa looking to begin his European Tour season in style after finishing a highly impressive 21st in last season’s Race to Dubai.

But for the burly 26-year-old, this week’s event at Royal Durban Golf Club carries a lot more meaning than just another stop on the European Tour.

Coetzee was born on July 18, and shares a birthday with the man who shaped his country’s democracy, and the person which the tournament honours -- Madiba. The significance of it is not lost on the man from Pretoria.

“This week is Nelson Mandela’s event. I’ve always shared my birthday with Nelson, and this is quite big. This is a man who changed our country and made it what it is now. He made it a lot better and having a tournament in his name is unbelievable. I’m sure a lot of South Africans are looking forward to playing this week,” Coetzee said in the lead up to the tournament.

The tournament was inaugurated in August of this year, and it was decided that the Royal Durban Golf Club would play host. The course was first established in 1892, although it was rebuilt in 1932 to better resemble the pristine layout that it boasts today. In its 100 year history, it has hosted the South African Open Championship and the Commonwealth Tournament. Although local members know it as a par-73, the fourth, seventh and 18th holes have been converted into par-fours this week and it will play as a par-70.

One of the major talking points has been the weather, and sadly relentless rains in the Durban area have cast doubt as to whether the tournament will reach its completion by Sunday. In fact, 60 millilitres of rain fell in the city on Saturday alone, while the area has experienced more than a year’s worth of rainfall in the last 50 days. And, with the prospect of more rain this weekend, the already-saturated course will likely be pushed to its limits.

Nevertheless the €1 million event has attracted some of the finest players from the European Tour, and, assuming things go ahead without weather problems, locals should be in for some scintillating golf in the next four days.

Although the European Tour season begins here, the showpiece in Madiba’s honour is also co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour. Intriguingly, the Order of Merit title for the local tour is reaching its climax, with next week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship being the final chance for the one of the leaders to wrap things up. Coetzee lies third, and rightfully believes that he’s in with a chance.

“I’m just finally happy that I’ve caught Branden (Grace) in the Race to Dubai, we’re finally level pegging now that the season starts over. It’s been a tough year competing with him on both tours - he’s been giving everyone a hiding!” Coetzee said jokingly.

“I think next week will be the main decider, but it’s going to interesting over the next couple of weeks. There are a bunch of guys who can come through. Trevor Fisher Jnr has had a great season, so I’m sure he’s also one to look at. It will be interesting to see the scoreboards and have the people at home doing the math and working out what scenarios could play out.”

The first prize pay-out is for a cool €158 500, and would go a long way to helping the former Telkom PGA champion bridge the R900 000 advantage that Grace has on him. However, it will be no easy task in a field that includes the likes of Tim Clark, Pablo Larrazabal, Thomas Aiken, David Howell, Gregory Havret, and, of course, Sunshine Tour Order of Merit-leader Grace.

Such names will no doubt draw in the crowds, and proceeds from the event will go to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. The first tee shot in the 156-man event will be struck at 6:30am on Thursday, with coverage getting under way on SuperSport from 1:30pm.

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