George Coetzee played the 18th at Heritage Golf Club three times on Sunday, and he made birdie each time. But it was only on the third attempt that his birdie was enough to win the inaugural AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open.
He carded two-under-par 69 in regulation play in the final round, and then beat Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen on the second play-off hole to take the first tournament sanctioned by three of the world’s major tours – the Sunshine Tour, The European Tour and the Asian Tour.
“Being in the play-off was the most comfortable I felt today,” said Coetzee. “I just had to get the job done. It doesn’t matter how long it takes.”
He started the final round as if he was in cruise control, and it looked for all the world as if he was going to run away with the title when he made his third birdie by the time he had reached the fifth hole.
But a bogey on seven seemed to dent his confidence, and he followed it by eight consecutive pars, before dropping another shot on the 16th – almost at the same time as Olesen made a great birdie on 17.
“Leading is probably one of the main reasons it was so tough out there,” said Coetzee. “It’s much easier to play when you’re a couple back than it is when you’re a couple ahead. I definitely made a couple of mistakes.”
Despite that analysis of his round, this was the second of his three European Tour victories where he has led or shared the lead going into the final day. He shared the lead after 54 holes of the 2015 Tshwane Open and led on his own going into the final day in Mauritius. He made up five shots to win the 2014 Joburg Open.
Going into a play-off on a par-five hole – they were slated to replay the 18th until a winner emerged – meant Coetzee was going to be reliant on being straight and safe off the tee. “I felt very worried about my driving at the start of the round,” he said, “and at the end of the day, it was my driving that won it for me.”
Indeed, he bend down to pick up his tee every time he used his driver before the ball had even reached the zenith of its trajectory, while Olesen, by way of contrast, never seemed sure of where the ball would go. “I’ve been hitting my driver pretty bad,” said Olesen. “It’s difficult to play that 18th with a three-wood, but George hit some great shots there in the play-off to get two birdies, as it’s not an easy hole. So big congratulations to him and he’s played really well.”
It seemed entirely appropriate that and Asian Tour player joined Coetzee from South Africa and Olesen from Europe in the fray on the final day, and Singapore’s Mardan Mamat closed with two birdies in his final three holes to claim third place on his own.
Thomas Aiken was fourth after his putter went cold on him in the final round, during which he carded a one-under 70 to finish just two strokes back.
For Coetzee, it was just a relief to win despite a back that threatened to have him withdraw before the tournament even started. “I actually withdrew from next week’s tournament because I thought my back might need a bit of a rest, but I’m happy to have survived this week and I can’t wait for my next windsurfing expedition,” he laughed.