Six golfers put themselves at the top of the leaderboard on Saturday, sharing a one-shot lead as the Tshwane Open enters what will be a thrilling final round at Pretoria Country Club on Sunday.
South Africans Wallie Coetsee, George Coetzee and Trevor Fisher Junior, as well as Scotland’s Craig Lee, Englishman David Horsey and Spaniard Adrian Otaegui, are all on nine-under-par, one stroke ahead of locals Ockie Strydom and Erik van Rooyen.
Lee, looking to claim his first European Tour title after some close misses in the past, fired a four-under-par 66 on Saturday to vault up the leaderboard, having started the day tied for 13th place.
Coetsee and Coetzee, both proud boereseuns, shot two-under-par 68s to claim a share of the lead, while Fisher Junior, looking for back-to-back European Tour titles after last weekend’s breakthrough win at the Africa Open, and Horsey both posted 69s.
Otaegui, who blazed to a 62 in the second round to claim a two-shot lead, had the least impressive round of the half-dozen leaders, battling to a two-over-par 72.
The 22-year-old was one-under for the round as he reached the ninth hole, but three bogeys in five holes followed.
“I played pretty well until the ninth. I missed the tee-shot on the left and had the wrong strategy and tried to go for the green. Then I made another couple of bogeys after that, but I’m happy and made a few good putts. I’m trying to keep the rhythm for better tee shots tomorrow.
“The fairways were a bit harder and the ball flew a bit longer. I played okay and I’m pretty confident for tomorrow,” Otaegui said.
The Pretoria Country Club faithful will certainly be behind Coetzee, a long-time member, and the one-time European Tour winner said the changes to his game that he has struggled to bed down over the last year are starting to produce the goods.
“Every day it gets a bit closer to what I want and today was the first time in a year I can say it was pure ball-striking. It’s nice to get the game gelling properly and local knowledge does help in terms of knowing exactly what to expect when I’m in trouble, but it’s not going to get me over the line,” Coetzee said.
The fairytale winner, however, would be Coetsee, the journeyman who is in his 23rd year as a Sunshine Tour pro and has just two titles to show for it. But since earning his Asian Tour card in a gruelling qualifying school in Thailand in January, the 42-year-old has gone on an astonishing run of form that has seen him finish tied second in the Joburg Open and tied-45th in the Africa Open, the R1.1 million he has earned in the last two weeks making up 26% of his career winnings!
“I’ve got my Sunshine Tour card, my Asian Tour card and now it’s time for the European Tour card. I’m hitting the ball so well and I love the pressure, it’s lekker. I took a lot out of leading the Joburg Open in the final round and finishing second. When something bad like that happens, you think it’s terrible at the time, but in the end it’s the best thing because you learn from your mistakes. But hopefully I don’t learn anything tomorrow!” the genial Coetsee joked.
The marketing gurus have come up with the slogan “It’s more than just golf!” for the Tshwane Open, and Fisher Junior can attest to that as his more relaxed attitude on the course, after his father succumbed to cancer two years ago, has seen the father of two gain perspective and take pains not to define himself through his golf.
The result has been a life-changing win at East London Golf Club and the possibility of another lucrative pay-day in Pretoria.
The likeable Modderfontein golfer is adept at rebounding from tough times and, after four bogeys in five holes from the third, he claimed back-to-back birdies on the eighth and ninth holes, and three more on the back nine to join the leaders.
“It was tough today. You can see from the scores that no one moved today. If it’s gusty like this then you have to grind. The wind was all over the show. I think it was the windiest day here so far. It swirls so much that you don’t know what you’re doing with the yardages and the greens are quite firm, so it was tough to up-and-down.
“But I’m very happy with how I finished. If you said to me after six holes that I would finish with a one-under 69, I would have taken it. I started badly, but my swing felt good. I was a bit unlucky on a few holes and the putter was saving me,” Fisher Junior said.
Horsey, who shared the first-round lead with Morten Orum Madsen, who is one of a trio of European golfers on seven-under with Raphael Jacquelin and Edoardo Molinari, also managed to avoid the big numbers on a day when he struggled to get close to the flags, thanks in part to the tricky, shifting breeze at Pretoria Country Club.
“I didn’t give myself really good chances for birdie and struggled a bit with distance-control. It was difficult to get it close and that makes it hard to make birdie. All things considered it was a decent score and I’m reasonably pleased with how I am playing. The wind has been tricky for the last three days. It seems to pick up and drop, which made choosing the right club very difficult,” Horsey said.
The chase for the R2.9 million first prize is not limited to the top 11 golfers on seven-under or better though; South Africans Tjaart van der Walt, Justin Walters and Dean Burmester, and Sweden’s Mikael Lundberg, are all on six-under, just three shots off the pace.