George Coetzee and Jaco van Zyl were the final two-ball in the third round of the Chase to the Investec Cup final at the Lost City on Saturday, but both had their problems to leave the race for the massive bonus pool wide open in the last tournament of the Sunshine Tour’s lucrative summer swing.
Coetzee, who led Van Zyl by two shots after the second round, battled to a one-under 71 and his lead is still two shots. But Van Zyl is no longer second, having struggled to a one-over 73 that saw him drop back to three-under for the tournament, four behind Coetzee and in a tie for fourth with Jaco Ahlers (68), Tjaart van der Walt (69) and Chris Swanepoel (69).
Charl Schwartzel, whose shoulder gave him no obvious problems on Saturday, picked up three birdies on the back nine to shoot 70 and climb into third place on four-under.
But the round of the day came from Jbe’ Kruger, who blazed around Sun City’s lesser-known but tremendous course in just 65 strokes to jump to five-under overall, in second place just two strokes behind Coetzee.
The diminutive Kruger and the burly Ahlers made their moves early, but their rounds were still played in a blustery wind as a storm rumbled nearby but missed the Sun City complex.
Kruger made an almost-immediate impression with a superb string of five successive birdies from the third hole, needing just 10 putts on the front nine as he went out in 31. He picked up another birdie on the tricky par-four 14th, before birdies on 16 and 18 sandwiched his only bogey, on the par-four 17th.
Ahlers’ birdies came in much smaller families, with a pair on eight and nine and another pair on the last two rounds, and he did not drop a shot in a fine round.
The devout Kruger was remarkably honest about his round.
“I played decent golf but not as well as my score suggests. The good Lord helped me with my putts because I didn’t hit the ball that well but I made every putt from inside 20 feet,” Kruger said.
Coetzee was disappointed with his round, saying his driver and long irons are going to have to sharpen up if he is to win the tournament and the R3.5 million prize that would come his way for topping the final Chase to the Investec Cup standings.
“I’m not that pleased with my round, my driver wasn’t so good today, I struggled with it so I tried to hit a few more long irons, but it just wasn’t there today. Fortunately my short game was pretty good, but my long game is going to have to sharpen up,” Coetzee said.
The 11th and the 18th are the two par-fives on the back nine and both are well-bunkered. But Coetzee bogeyed both with errant tee-shots that went into the thick bush on the 11th and into the reed-lined water hazard on the last.
On the 11th he chipped out sideways after taking a drop, scuffed his fourth just short of the grassy swale that cuts across the fairway and then hit a magnificent fifth shot to a couple of feet from the hole, limiting the damage to a bogey.
“I topped my three-wood on the 11th and I was very happy to just minimise the damage. I had pretty much accepted a seven there,” Coetzee said.
On 18 he also had to take a drop after a wayward drive, but this time a wonderful long-iron sent his third on to the fringe of the green, 35 feet from the flag. Unfortunately Coetzee sent his first, downhill putt 10 feet past the hole and was not able to sink the return effort, once again suffering a bogey.
“On the front nine I had one or two birdie opportunities that I missed and I made a couple of mistakes that I was able to save par from, so I guess those cancel each other out and I had nine pars going out. But then I had a nice birdie on 10 and I thought ‘now I can get going’, but that momentum came to a stop pretty quickly. At least I did not go backwards though … “ Coetzee said.
And it was not all bad for the 28-year-old as he picked up birdies on the par-three 13th and the par-four 16th.
On the 180-metre 13th, Coetzee was not swayed by the other golfers using seven-iron and he showed his skill by cutting a punched six-iron to five feet from the flag.
In terms of the overall standings, Coetzee is also in first place now, while Kruger and Schwartzel are not eligible for the bonus pool prize because their rankings coming into the final were too low.
Ahlers is poised to strike in fourth place overall, while Van Zyl is going to have to improve on the 67 he shot in the second round at Millvale to improve on his current fifth place.
Jacques Blaauw is on level-par for the tournament and will need to repeat the 61 he shot on the final day of the Tshwane Open last weekend to be sure of winning the bonus pool because he is second in the standings at present.
Trevor Fisher Junior, who led the standings coming into the final, is on five-over in 18th place for the tournament, but is currently third in the overall rankings, so a top-10 finish could see the R3.5 million going into his pocket for the second successive year.