Coetzee times Telkom PGA Championship victory perfectly

George Coetzee had to keep his eye on his watch after being put on the clock on Sunday as he marched to a two-shot victory in the R3.25-million Telkom PGA Championship played on the Woodmead course at Country Club Johannesburg.

He finished on 27-under-par 261, and fired a final round of eight-under-par 64 to edge out Neil Schietekat by two shots, with the man with whom he tussled all week long for the victory, Branden Grace, slipping to a share of third with a fast-finishing Garth Mulroy two shots further back.

And it wasn’t until the trio got put on the clock at the 14th that the challenge presented by Grace faded.

“It was unfortunate, that,” said Coetzee. “Gracie was very aware of it, and he was rushing his shots. I knew it would make a difference, and I tried to make sure it didn’t make a difference to me. I tried to tell myself that I am a quick player and not to worry about it.”

But Grace pushed his drive on 14 right into the trees, and, in an incredibly lucky break, it ricocheted off a truck forward to the left side of the fairway.

He was unable to convert his good fortune into a birdie, and his game fell to pieces on the next two holes: He made consecutive bogeys, while Coetzee, who had birdied 14, was safely down in par on both.

The stocky 24-year-old from Pretoria then put his foot on the pedal and birdied the final two holes to underline the form he had showed all week.

There have been times recently when Coetzee has doubted his ability to win, but he worked hard at dealing with that: “I kept tell myself that I may hit some bad shots and I would recover from them.”

And recover he did: he dropped just four shots throughout the tournament, the last of which came on the second hole of his final round. After that, he made nine birdies in a ding-dong battle with Schietekat and Grace.

“I don’t think there are a lot of people who have hit more balls than me over the last two years,” said Coetzee, who last won on the Sunshine Tour in 2008, “but I am very glad it’s finally paid off, because while you’re battling, the question is always whether you’ll get out of the rut.”

The other important part of getting out of the rut was doing the right thing under pressure.

“I tend to try and fire at flags all day long,” he said, “and Johann Rupert told me at last week’s tournament to be a little less aggressive when things got tough, and I did that a lot,” he said.

But it took some similar advice from his father, Dr George Coetzee, who was on the bag this week, to fire him up and ram home the advantage as Grace faltered: “He told me to just get it close from 15 feet on 17, and I was anxious because that could have left me with just a one-shot lead going to 18,” he said.

“So I concentrated really hard on trying to make it, and I did,” he added.

The 18th become something of a victory lap for him, and he added his name to a trophy which has names like Gary Player, Ernie Els, Nick Price and Louis Oosthuizen engraved on it.

“During the week, I kept telling myself that i don’t care whose names are on that trophy, to me it’s just about winning the trophy,” he said.

“Now, I see there are a lot of great names on it and I would love to follow in their footsteps and do great things,” he added.

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