High-flying Coetzee tops the leaderboard in Turkey | SASCOC - SASCOC

High-flying Coetzee tops the leaderboard in Turkey

Rory McIlroy’s unexpected withdrawal from the Turkish Airlines Open opened up a spot for George Coetzee and the big-hitting South African is not a man to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Coetzee grabbed the outright lead with a stunning seven-under-par 64 at the Regnum Carya Golf and Spa Resort in the $7-mllion start of the Final Series of the 2016 Race to Dubai on Thursday.
Thorbjorn Oleson from Denmark was his closest challenger with a flawless 65, while Spain’s Jorge Campillo, Hoatong Li from China, Austrian Bernd Wiesberger and Manteo Manassero from Italy shared third at five under.
Compatriot Justin Walters opened with a 68 to tuck in behind a group of eight players in joint seventh and Darren Fichardt also finished in red numbers with a 70, despite a costly double bogey at the par-four third.
Coetzee looked for all the world like a man destined for great things when he claimed comprehensive victories in the Tshwane Open and AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open last year, but a surfing injury in September put paid to any more title hopes.
It was while he recuperated from the broken ankle that the Pretoria golfer took a bold decision to make swing changes that was long overdue. What followed were nine months of frustration and a huge test of patience. The 30-year-old pretty much flew under the radar for most of this season, and after missing seven cuts in 12 starts, he was dangerously close to losing his European Tour card.
He shrugged off any suggestions of pressure with three successive 69s at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last month and the tie for 25th in Scotland signalled a return to form.
Four sub-70 rounds at the Portugal Masters confirmed for Coetzee that his game was on the up and, after a joint-40th finish in last week’s WGC HSBC Champions, he arrived in Turkey ready to fire.
‘I sacrificed a lot this year to affect the swing changes and to get rid of bad habits,’ Coetzee said. ‘You hope it will come, but I felt it was close at the Portugal Masters and last week in China.
‘It was good to win events last year, but I was still hitting a lot of bad shots and saving it with my putter. I want to shoot for bigger goals, but you have to be prepared to sacrifice and suffer. It’s just part of the process you have to go through to reach that next level.
‘I’ve been excited in the buildup to this week; happy with the way things were going. I felt really comfortable out there. I’ve been in a better mood because I’m swinging it a thousand times better than ever before, but I never expected to be leading.’
Coetzee got off to a solid start with back-to-back pars at 11 and 12, and drained the first of eight birdie putts in at the 13th. He followed with more gains at 15 and 16 and had his lone bogey at 17.
‘I drove it right and was stuck behind a tree with no shot,’ he said. ‘All I could do was punch out and hit my third to the green. I missed a 15-footer for par, but after the bogey, I hit it stiff at the first and got back to three under.’
That set the tone for a flawless back nine, with further birdies dropping at three, seven, nine and 10. ‘The highlight of the day was definitely the birdie at 15,’ Coetzee said. ‘After I made the putt, I saw the guy change the leaderboard. I didn’t realise it was a par five.
‘I turned to Alan [Burns, his caddie] and asked him why he didn’t tell me we were putting for eagle? I would never have missed! That birdie was a great surprise and it just kept the momentum going.’
His newfound confidence was telling as he pounded driver down the 10th fairway.
‘I saw a lot of guys going with three-woods and long irons, playing it safe because of the water on the left, but it’s a proper par four that; there’s no need to lay up,’ he said.
‘If you push it a bit right, you still have a good angle at the green. I started it at the water and faded it to the middle of the fairway and it came out perfectly. My goal for the week will be in stay in this good mood. Smiling George is a happy George.’
Walters, who lies at 94th in the Race to Dubai rankings, was equally pleased with his solid start ahead of next week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge. ‘It will take something special this week to get into the top 72 for Sun City, but it could happen for me,’ he said. ‘I’ve made the kind of start I wanted, so we’ll keep going from here. I’m hitting it well and I gave myself a lot of chances. Had a couple of soft bogeys, but overall, I’m really pleased with the round.’
The rest of the South African pack served up a bag of mixed results.
Richard Sterne and Thomas Aiken tied for 47th with a pair of even-par 71s, Haydn Porteous opened with a 72, Brandon Stone a 74 and Jaco van Zyl – who led through the first three rounds last year – signed for a five over 76.

Picture of Coetzee courtesy of Michael Denker

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