George’s 64 in Joburg Open a real eye-opener

George Coetzee’s eight-under-par 64 on Royal Johannesburg and Kensington’s East Course on Friday might not have been the low round of the day in the second round of the Joburg Open, but it certainly made people sit up and notice him.

His flawless round had five birdies on the opening nine, and three more on the way home to reach the halfway mark in the €1.3-million tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour in 12-under-par, three strokes off the hot pace set by Trevor Fisher Jnr and 2008 champion Richard Sterne.

Fisher blazed around the West Course – players play a round on each of the East and West Courses ahead of the cut – in nine-under-par 62, and Sterne made 65 on the East Course.

“I didn’t feel like I was hitting it great over the first couple of holes, but the ball was going where I wanted it and from then on I started getting a bit more confidence,” said Coetzee of his round which was played in the company of Sterne, who has been in impressive form over the last fortnight.

“Richard making birdie on every other hole made me want to make another birdie on the next hole, so we pulled each other along pretty well,” he said. “I hit it great until the stretch, where I made pars and a couple of birdies. All in all I was pretty happy with my game.”

Coetzee has been chasing an elusive maiden European Tour victory for two years now, and his play certainly signalled that he is still on the right track. But he wasn’t about to get ahead of himself: “I don’t even think about those things, well, I try not to. Every now and then it will pop up and you have to get back into the zone, into the now.

“I try not to think about it and I tell myself that I want to finish top 10 instead, and that normally calms me down. I can achieve that in the position I am in at the moment. If the win comes I’ll be happy, but if it doesn’t, as long as I’m playing well, I’ll be happy,” he said.

It’s an unpressured approach which will almost certainly pay off soon, and the maturity is getting him around difficult courses with greater ease. “Over the years I would need more than one round to get to know a golf course. Over the last couple of events of last year, when we played in China and Singapore, I would play one practice round and then I would be in the mix come the weekend.

“That would never happen to me before, so I guess the way I’m approaching the golf course makes it easier to know new courses. I’m playing the course as it is now, instead of trying to learn every little bump and turn,” he added.

There’s more than the course in front of him on the weekend, though. Fisher and Sterne will be tough opponents. But he’s friendly enough with them to keep it light-hearted enough to defuse the tension. “There’s a lot of banter that goes on between us. We try not to get it caught on camera,” he said.

And he added: “I waited for Richard the whole day to chirp me, and my answer is that if he wants to come for a braai at my place he’s welcome to look at my Masters invitation!”

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