As George Coetzee started running out of holes to edge into the lead on Sunday in the Tshwane Open, clubhouse leader Jacques Blaauw was warming up for a possible playoff on the practice range at Pretoria Country Club.
And then Coetzee, playing on the course where, on his 10th birthday, he won his first golf tournament, played the kind of shot only local knowledge can produce as he bumped a little chip from under the trees to the right of the 17th green that settled down inside six feet from the pin.
The resultant birdie finally put him in the lead, and it was a lead he was going to hang onto with an iron grip as he played the 18th in front of fans and friends who cheered him to the one-stroke win over Blaauw.
It was a second European Tour victory for Coetzee, made all the sweeter for being where he learned the game. “I’ve won so many times on this course, and now I’ve won in the biggest tournament that will ever be played here, so I’m really pleased about that,” he said.
“I was waiting for the 17th,” he laughed after the round. “I’ve played this course hundreds of times, and I knew that the birdie opportunities are there at the end of the round. And I played 17 exactly as I did in the second and third rounds. I knew if my drive went right, I’d have a way to the flag through the bunkers.”
Coetzee carded a final-round five-under-par 65, but he could have taken things a little easier had Blaauw not played the most extraordinary round, racking up nine birdies on his way to a brilliant 61. That equalled the best round ever on Pretoria Country Club – Hennie Otto’s 61 in February 2010, although that was 11-under-par as par for the course on that day was 72.
Blaauw started ordinarily enough, with one birdie in his opening five holes. But then he reeled off four in succession ahead of the turn to set off on the homeward nine with only 30 strokes to his name. Two more birdies on 11 and 12 set him up for an even bigger charge, but he had to wait until 17 before he made another. He underlined how good his round was with a final one on 18.
Coetzee had to be patient as he started with five consecutive birdies while Blaauw, who had started nearly two hours earlier, was picking up shots in spectacular fashion.
Coetzee then moved decisively after he made his first birdie on six, making two more ahead of the turn to edge to within two of Blaauw who was home and hosed after a brilliant putting display. Coetzee made another birdie immediately after the turn, and then began the waiting game.
This time, Coetzee had to wait through six holes without a birdie – and without a really good chance of one, either.
But then came the 18th: He waited until the green had cleared on the 330-metre par-four, and let his driver rip. It wasn’t straight enough, but it was close enough to the green to give him an inkling of a shot. And it came to rest close enough for him to deliver the coup de grace.
It was vindication for a process of deconstruction and then reconstruction of his swing, a process which has at times left him looking overly fiddly. “You have to complicate things before you can find the simplicity in them,” he said.