A little fist-pump from Wallie Coetsee on Saturday as he put his six-footer for birdie into the hole showed just how pleased he was to open up a two-stroke lead after the third round of the Joburg Open.
He rode a roller-coaster of bogeys and birdies – three bogeys were eventually cancelled out by five birdies – to card a two-under-par 70 and a lead which will be worth its weight in gold going into the final round.
“It’s a lot better than just one shot,” he laughed. “But truthfully, it’s going to feel like five shots tomorrow when I start.”
He said he had never felt nerves like he did over the first putt on the first hole, and that they soon settled. “I was fine on the tee shot and the approach, but I couldn’t even feel the putter head when I was lining up that first putt.”
Despite claiming to feel relaxed after that, he missed out on birdie opportunities over the next two holes, and bogeyed the next. So it seemed he couldn’t get going. “Actually, I was fine, and it really helped that the crowds were behind me like they were,” he said. “I had to keep them quiet while Simon Dyson played a couple of times.”
He turned in level-par 37 after making birdie on nine, and then he faced the homeward journey.
The second nine on Royal Johannesburg and Kensington’s East Course dished up its fair share of difficulties for the field – the best score of the day for the par-35 stretch of the challenging layout was Jaco van Zyl’s four-under 31, and that took an eagle on the 18th.
But it was precisely then that Coetsee seemed to relax into his business, and three birdies in a row from 11 to 13. He wasn’t left unscathed by the challenges the stretch posed, dropping shots on 10 and 16 on the way in.
“My iron play helped me,” he said. “Club selection was perfect, and I hit some really good approaches. In fact, I was unlucky not to make it four birdies in a row, but that stretch was the turning point in my round.”
He also made two good par-saves on 14 and 15, and the bogey on 16 was in fact so nearly a third par-save in a row.
Behind him, Jacques Blaauw capitalised on a blistering start to card a five-under 67 and move into a share of second on 12-under with Steve Webster, who carded the round of the day with his early seven-under-par 65, David Howell and Tjaart van der Walt.
Webster took full advantage of cool and relatively windless conditions in the early morning for his seven-under. “I made a good birdie at the first and then a good save at the next,” he said. “I made a few good saves and got on a roll. I missed a few 12-footers, which was frustrating, but played a lot of good golf today.”
Blaauw made birdies on each of the first four holes, missed a makeable birdie putt on five, and then birdied six for a dream start to what is traditionally called ‘moving day’ in tournaments. A bogey at 10 was cancelled out by a birdie on 13 as he finished that problematic back nine level-par. “I think the holes just played longer,” he said when asked what the difference was between the two nines. “Some of the flags were really tucked away on that nine, too.”
There was a group of nine players on 11-under, including defending champion George Coetzee, Thomas Aiken, Garth Mulroy and South African Open champion Andy Sullivan of England.
Coetzee said he was leaning heavily on his experience going into the final round. “I think the experience that I picked up over the last couple of years on this track have helped me for the last two days, because I haven’t been hitting it that well,” he said. “I’ve been plotting my way around and knowing where to miss it. I could have made numbers out there, but knowing the course and how to recover helps a little bit. I’ll need to play better golf if I want to win this.”
Coetsee is determined not to think that way ahead of the final round. “Today was a great practice run for the final round. I’m going to go out there to enjoy it,” he said.