5 Things: Coetzee finally gets maiden victory

George Coetzee celebrates with the trophy after winning the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.

George Coetzee celebrates with the trophy after winning the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.

The Joburg Open represented the sixth South African tournament on the 2014 European Tour. It produced a good winner and settled a few more Open spots.

Here are 5 Things you need to know about the Joburg Open.

• • •

1. BREAKTHROUGH: George Coetzee finally secured the European Tour win his talent has deserved for a few years now. The South African came through the field with a closing 66 to post a 19-under total of 266 and a three-shot victory over compatriot Justin Walters, South Korea’s Jin Jeong and England’s Tyrrell Hatton.

Coetzee had racked up 24 top-10 finishes since 2011, including three seconds and five thirds. It seemed only a matter of time before he stepped into the winner’s circle. He did so in Johannesburg.

“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “I’ve been waiting a while. I’ve been trying to play it down and been playing it down this week to say that it’s not important, but it’s important now.”

Coetzee is the fifth straight South African winner of the Joburg Open. He also earns a spot in this year’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

Coetzee contended for the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s before finishing 15th. He might not win the Open Championship this year, but he will win more European Tournaments. Of that there seems little doubt.

• • •

2. JOINING THE FUN: Justin Walters was also seeking his first European Tour win. His consolation is a place in at Royal Liverpool this July for the 143rd running of golf’s oldest major championship along with Coetzee and Jeong.

The Joburg Open offered three spots into Royal Liverpool for players finishing in the top 10 not otherwise exempt. Walters, a former North Carolina State player, will make his Open Championship debut, while Jeong finished T-14 in the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews after qualifying by winning that year’s British Amateur Championship.

• • •

3. THIRD TIME NOT THE CHARM: Charl Schwartzel turned up on the European Tour after a four-week break hoping it would help him to a third Joburg Open victory.

Schwartzel won the tournament in 2010 and 2011. The South African had already made four appearances on the 2014 European Tour, recording three top-10 finishes.

“After some time off I always feel fresh, because I drain more mentally than I do physically,” Schwartzel said. “It’s nice to have had time off and I feel up for the challenge, and in our game that’s 85 percent of the battle won. Time will tell what’s going to happen, but at least I feel good.”

Needless to say he turned up as one of the favorites to take the title. However, he never shook off the four-week rust. He finished T-59.

• • •

4. NO REPEAT PERFORMANCE: Richard Sterne was another homegrown player looking for a third win. He arrived as defending champion, announcing his love for the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.

That wasn’t surprising given he’d won by seven shots last year, setting a tournament record with his 27-under total of 260.

“I love the course,” he said. “I really like the layout and the course just suits my eye.

“I’m obviously used to the conditions and it’s the same grass I grew up playing. That definitely helps and it’s horses for courses, I suppose. A lot of players generally do well in the same places year after year, and that’s been the case for me in Joburg."

The love wasn’t repaid. Sterne missed the cut by a stroke after rounds of 67 and 73.

• • •

5. FADING AWAY: Scotland’s Craig Lee was looking to become the second Scottish European Tour winner this year after Stephen Gallacher’s Dubai Desert Classic victory. Lee was also hoping to make amends for his fourth-round collapse in Abu Dhabi.

Lee led the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship by two shots after 54 holes but collapsed with a closing 77 in the company of Open Champion Phil Mickelson. He shared the halfway lead in Joburg with Italy’s Edoardo Molinari.

“I’m in a good position and feel I’m playing better than I was when I led going into the final round in Abu Dhabi,” Lee said. “These are the positions I want to be in and the more I can do that the more comfortable I’m going to be. I may not have to be worrying about players like Phil Mickelson or Rory McIlroy but there’s still good strength in this field. The whole pack is after me so I’m certainly not going to be taking anything for granted.”

Just as well he didn’t get ahead of himself. Lee posted closing rounds of 74 and 75 to drop to T-49.

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