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Fifth spot in Turkey earns Coetzee his Challenge berth

It was a week of great highs and a massive quadruple low, but George Coetzee closed with a brilliant fifth-place finish in the Turkish Airlines Open on Sunday to nail down his spot in next week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge.
The big-hitting South African closed with a four-under-par 67 to finish the week at 14 under, half a dozen shots short of the winning mark set by Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.
For Olesen, the win means he has chalked up victories for three straight years on the European Tour, following the 2014 ISPS HANDA Perth International and the Alfred Dunhill Links last year.
For Coetzee, the fifth-place finish came with a payday of just over R4-million and 34 valuable spots in the Race to Dubai.
At the business end of the European Tour’s 2016 season, Coetzee did what he came out to Turkey to do: he crossed the first hurdle in the Final Series and rocketed from 85th to 51st to comfortably qualify for the $7-million showcase at Sun City.
For the 30-year-old Pretoria professional, it was better than winning the lotto. ‘The 66 on Saturday and the 67 in the final round proved that the 64 in round one wasn’t a fluke and that’s seriously good news,’ he said. ‘I felt good coming into this week and this is the end result of all the hard work I’ve done on my swing this year. What a time to get it all to work together.’
Coetzee broke an ankle in a surfing accident last September after a 2015 season in which he had played the best golf of his life with two European Tour victories.
Although it was a huge set-back, the enforced time off provided the opportunity to make some swing changes that was a long time coming.
After a frustrating season with few highlights, it all came together at the Regnum Carya Golf and Spa Resort this week. His final round featured a bogey at the par-five eighth, but his scorecard also boasted five birdies, including three in a row from the 10th.
‘I wanted to adapt my swing to suit my body type, but it’s been a slog and it’s been frustrating,’ he said. ‘Apart from that wicket eight at the 10th on Friday, I played really well this week and it confirms for me that the game is on the up.
‘I finally feel that I’m technically where I wanted to be. Now I can play with more feeling and a bit freer and look after the mental side of the game.’
The season finale $8-million DP World Tour Championship in Dubai has a restricted field of the top-60 available players in the Race to Dubai. Joining Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and rookie Brandon Stone inside that magic number was music to Coetzee’s ears.
‘Now I’m really looking forward to the Nedbank Golf Challenge,’ he said. ‘I’ve played a lot of tournament golf there and I know that course backwards. I am really comfortable out there and, of course, the other benefit is that we’ll be back on the kikuyu. You can hammer the ball out of the rough, not clip it out like this week. Another solid four rounds and I’ll be in Dubai.’
Darren Fichardt, with a 69, and Justin Walters, with a 73, were next best of the South Africans yesterday on five-under 279. Stone closed with a 70 for 282 and Sterne with a 73 for 286.
Jaco van Zyl, back in the saddle after an emergency appendectomy in October, got the rust off with a 76, and followed with rounds of 72, 71 and 69. He tied for 72nd with compatriot Haydn Porteous, who closed with a brilliant 66 that featured five birdies on the trot from 12 to 16.
Van Zyl led the first three rounds at Sun City last year and will want to draw on those positive memories to guarantee his spot in Dubai.
It’s the end of the road, though, for Fichardt, Walters, Porteous and possibly Thomas Aiken, who signed for a 70 to finish at 281. The European Tour champion is 79th in the Race to Dubai and has an outside chance of making the field at Sun City, depending on how many players withdraw. Talk at the Turkish Airlines Open on Sunday was that Masters champion Danny Willett might be one of them.

Picture of Coetzee courtesy of Michael Denker


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