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Ken Borland



Woods chasing records while Grace & Coetzee make debuts 0

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Ken

 

While the revitalised Tiger Woods is favoured to close to within three of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major titles when the Masters gets underway this evening, Branden Grace and George Coetzee will make their debuts at Augusta, lifting South Africa’s representation in one of golf’s most hallowed events to an all-time high of eight.

The pair will join compatriots Tim Clark, Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and Trevor Immelman in an event that has seen five South African triumphs – Gary Player in 1961, 74 and 78; Immelman in 2008 and Schwartzel in 2011.

The last player to win on his Masters debut was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and, although Oosthuizen was edged into second by Bubba Watson in a playoff last year and Els is the reigning British Open champion, the spotlight has been elsewhere.

Woods, who has risen like the phoenix back to number one in the world, is the clear favourite, bringing both great form – three wins in his last five starts – and tremendous pedigree, having four previous Masters titles, to the tournament.

Even Nicklaus backs Woods to kick-start his quest for 19 major titles again.

“If Tiger doesn’t figure it out here, after the spring he’s had, then I don’t know. I’ve said, and I continue to say it, that I still expect him to break my record. I think he’s just too talented, too driven and too focused on that. From this point, he’s got to win five majors, which is a pretty good career for most people to start at age 37. But I still think he’s going to do it, he’s in contention every year,” Nicklaus said.

The other contenders are Rory McIlroy, who returned to form with a second-place finish in last weekend’s Texas Open, three-time champion Phil Mickelson and, if you believe the British press, perennial favourite Ian Poulter, even though the Ryder Cup star is battling allergies as practically everything is blooming at Augusta at the moment.

This year’s Masters will also see the emergence of a stunning new talent who could not only be the successor to Woods but also the precursor to the Chinese dominance of the game many have predicted.

The 14-year-old Guan Tianlang will smash Matteo Mannesero’s record of being the youngest golfer to play in the Masters by two years and the youngster has impressed all and sundry in the build-up to the Major.

The son of a keen seven-handicap golfer, who knew his boy was something special when he beat him aged seven, Guan qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships in November.

Woods and two-time champion Tom Watson were among the legends he played practice rounds with, and both came away with the impression they were in the presence of future greatness.

“I enjoyed playing with Guan, he has good tempo, his rhythm is very good. Once he grows a little bit, he will be able to get the club faster. He will use a different swing plane when he gets taller and stronger,” Watson said.

“He’s so consistent,” said Woods. “He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes yesterday, hitting them spot-on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing, he knew the spots he had to land the ball and to be able to pull it off. Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution.”

The importance of course knowledge is magnified at Augusta, where the slopes on the fairways and greens are far steeper than the television coverage portrays. It really is the thinking man’s golf course.

“There isn’t a single hole out there that can’t be birdied if you just think, but there isn’t one that can’t be double-bogeyed if you ever stop thinking,” was the famous quote of Bobby Jones, the Masters co-founder and winner of seven Majors as an amateur.

The veteran Els gave the rookie Grace some words of advice before the tournament and he used the Jones quote.

“Overall I’d say it’s a tough golf course to learn in a hurry. I’m sure this will be the first of many visits to Augusta in your [Grace’s] career, so try to enjoy it and soak it all up. There are certain ‘crunch shots’ at Augusta where the tariff is very high and from one to 18 there is no other course where the margins between a birdie and a bogey are so small. You have to commit to your shots and be aggressive to your spots, even if that’s 25-feet right of the pin.

“You’ll know already that the slopes are more severe than they appear on television, so you hit a lot of iron shots from sloping lies and you’ve got the big elevation changes coming into some of those greens. The wind can switch around, especially in Amen Corner.

“The short game is the biggest thing at Augusta, though. The grass around the greens is mowed very tight and against the direction of play, so you have to be very precise with your strike. Obviously the speed and the slope of the greens get your attention, as well. Other than that, it’s really pretty straightforward!”

In Grace’s case, his short game, especially his lob-wedge, is impressive, but what is also relevant is that he is comfortable playing a high draw, which Augusta favours.

Apart from the advice from Els, Grace has also played a practice round with no less of an authority on Augusta than Player.

“I’m hitting the ball like I did in January again and I’m ready. Excitement will take care of the rest. It’s an experience I’ve never had before, Augusta and the Green Jacket is the most special of them all because of the history and South Africans having done well in the Masters in the past.

“I’ve been given some great insights in the practice rounds and everyone has just tried to help George and I as much as possible. Obviously I was disappointed to miss the cut in my last Major, but there was a little bit of extra pressure then because I had come in from nowhere really.

“Now I’m not worried that I have to go out and play well, I’m not worried about what people think because I’m number 32 in the world and I can just go out and enjoy myself. I’m in a good place,” Grace said.

Whatever the result, many would say he is in the best place of all for a golfer: beautiful Augusta in the springtime.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-04-11-masters-preview-tiger-tiger-burning-bright/#.WZLvBlUjHIU

Coetzee struggles but still leads Investec Cup 0

Posted on March 17, 2016 by Ken

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.

http://citizen.co.za/348462/chase-to-the-investec-cup-final-3rd-round/

Coetzee scrambles but remains in front 0

Posted on February 19, 2016 by Ken

 

George Coetzee said he felt like he was either making pars or scrambling for them in the second round of the Chase to the Investec Cup final at Millvale Private Retreat near Koster, outside Rustenburg, on Friday, but he nevertheless still reached the halfway mark of the elite 30-man tournament with a two-stroke lead.

Coetzee, who shared the overnight lead with Charl Schwartzel, shot a two-under-par 70 on Friday to go to six-under for the tournament.

Jaco van Zyl, who was the inaugural Chase to the Investec Cup champion in 2013, produced the best round of the tournament – a five-under-par 67 – to leap up the leaderboard to second on four-under.

Schwartzel is tied with Justin Harding four strokes back on two-under-par, but there is some doubt as to whether South Africa’s highest-ranked golfer will be able to complete the tournament due to a swollen and painful shoulder.

Darren Fichardt, Dean Burmester and Jean Hugo are also all still in contention on one-under-par.

“I survived – it was another tough day. I didn’t play as well today, I was just making pars and scrambling. I drove the ball better yesterday, but I putted better today. I’m where I want to be, but there’s still a lot of golf to play,” Coetzee said.

Any time you go round the 6839-metre Millvale course with just one dropped shot is a remarkable effort given the slick greens, the amount of water all over the course and the tricky pin-positions, but that is what Coetzee and Van Zyl managed, despite the tricky wind that made the first round so tough still being around.

Van Zyl’s bogey came on the par-five sixth and it was thanks to some unwanted company at the most unfortunate time.

“On six I hit a good tee-shot, I was in the middle of the fairway with the perfect yardage into the green. But then on my downswing, a bee landed on my ball and I hit it straight right into the water, leading to bogey,” Van Zyl explained.

Coetzee’s bogey on the par-five seventh was associated with the wind as he misjudged his club selection and sent his approach over the green.

Coetzee established his lead with birdies on the 11th and 12th holes, while Van Zyl rebounded superbly from his bogey with three birdies in four holes from the eighth, and then sealed a brilliant 67 with another birdie on the 14th.

Van Zyl said the secret to his success was staying patient and hanging in there on a tough course.

“You’ve just got to try and stick around here, it’s a great test of golf with the firm greens, the flags tucked away and a lot of water. If you start on the 10th then you have seven really tough holes on the trot from the 15th to the third and you just try for level-par,” the 36-year-old said.

The tournament now moves to the Lost City course at Sun City for the last two rounds, and Van Zyl said the going would be easier.

“It should be a bit easier at Lost City on Saturday and Sunday, there’s a bit more scoring opportunities. I’m hitting the ball well, so I look forward to that,” Van Zyl said.

http://citizen.co.za/347795/coetzee-reaches-halfway-mark/

Coetzee & Van Zyl on top as Millvale ‘torment’ ends 0

Posted on February 18, 2016 by Ken

 

George Coetzee and Jaco van Zyl are at the top of the leaderboard after the second round of the Chase to the Investec Cup final, but both are relieved that their torment on the beautiful but treacherous Millvale course is now over as the elite 30-man field relocates to Sun City for the last two rounds on the Lost City course.

Coetzee, who shared the overnight lead with Charl Schwartzel, shot a two-under-par 70 on Friday to go to six-under for the tournament, alone in front and projected to finish first in the Chase to the Investec Cup final standings, which would win him the bonus pool prize of a cool R3.5 million.

Van Zyl, after shooting 73 on the first day, produced Friday’s best round, a five-under-par 67 that lifted him to four-under overall, two shots behind Coetzee.

Both their rounds featured just one bogey, a six on the par-five sixth for Van Zyl and for Coetzee on the seventh, a remarkable effort on a course as tough as Millvale with its slick greens, plenty of water and a tricky wind.

“You’ve just got to try and stick around here, it’s a great test of golf with firm greens, the flags tucked away and a lot of water. If you start on the 10th then you have seven really tough holes on the trot from the 15th to the third and you just try for level-par.

“It should be a bit easier at Lost City on Saturday and Sunday, there’s a bit more scoring opportunities. I’m hitting the ball well, so I look forward to that,” Van Zyl, who was the inaugural Chase to the Investec Cup champion in 2013, said.

“I survived – it was another tough day,” Coetzee said. “I didn’t play as well today, but I scrambled and made pars. I drove the ball better yesterday, but I putted better today. I’m where I want to be, but there’s still a lot of golf to play.”

The Millvale course is hard enough without bad luck playing a part, but Van Zyl’s bogey on six came when a bee landed on his ball on his downswing and he put his second into the water, while Schwartzel, the co-leader after the first round, woke up with a painful shoulder and slipped down the leaderboard after shooting a 74.

It was a good effort by Schwartzel considering every shot had him in pain, but the 2011 Masters champion said he will be forced to withdraw on Saturday if anti-inflammatories can’t get the swelling down.

Schwartzel is four behind Coetzee, alongside Justin Harding, who has produced two sub-par rounds of 71 practically out of nowhere given his recent form.

Darren Fichardt, Dean Burmester and Jean Hugo, all long-time Sunshine Tour pros, are all on one-under-par and in a position to shake up the leaderboard over the weekend.

*Defending champion Lee-Anne Pace, South Africa’s highest-ranked women’s golfer, fired a three-under-par 68 to lead the Investec Cup for Ladies by three strokes over Monique Smit after the first round.

 

 



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