George Coetzee is one of the lucky few of the 30-man Investec Cup field who has played Millvale Private Retreat a few times, and he used the lessons he has learned to guide him to an opening round of four-under-par 68.
That was good enough for a share of the lead with 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, with only another two players breaking par – Justin Harding and Shaun Norris shared third place on one-under.
“I can think of at least four shots today that my local knowledge helped,” said Coetzee, who is sponsored by Investec and has played with executives of the company at the Millvale Private Retreat on a number of occasions.
The first two rounds of the tournament will be played there, with the final two rounds at Lost City at Sun City. The tournament is the climax of the year-long Chase to the Investec Cup, and the top 30 points earners during that time are battling for the R1-million tournament prize fund as well as the R10-million Bonus Pool.
“I could be aggressive and know where there is a little gap to sneak a drive in where most of the time you’d play a bit more conservatively,” Coetzee said. “And there were also at least two putts I wouldn’t have made if I hadn’t known they would break the other way.”
One of the times when he could be aggressive was on the 533-metre par-five seventh, where he took driver and hit it well left to take out the dog leg. “I knew there was a way to do that, and that my draw would not get me into too much trouble,” he said. He was left with a seven-iron in, and then a three-footer for eagle.
That eagle, together with six birdies, two bogeys and a double-bogey made up his scorecard. “I don’t know how I shot four-under,” he said. “I was all over the show, but I’m really happy to have posted a good score.”
Schwartzel’s round was a little tidier: He made two bogeys in his opening nine – on the third and the ninth – but he kept it tidy all the way in with three more birdies to go with his three ahead of the turn.
“The wind came up after six or seven holes, the flags were really difficult, and on top of that, the greens had some speed to them,” he said. “It made things pretty difficult. You had to play conservatively, but there were no real places for bailing out.”
Behind the leading four players, there was a group of four who made level-par for the opening round, made up of Keith Horne, Jean Hugo, Dean Burmester and Jaco Ahlers.
Defending champion Trevor Fisher Jnr battled his way to a six-over-par 78, and 2013 winner Jaco van Zyl was one-over.
For Coetzee, it’s about backing up the good work from last week’s Tshwane Open victory. “It’s not easy to play well the week after you’ve won, but that’s one of my goals this week – to put two good back-to-back weeks together,” he said.