Portugal: Breakthrough win for Coetzee

On the surface, it was nerveless stuff from George Coetzee as he went bogey-free for a closing five-under-par 66 on Sunday to win the Portugal Masters by two strokes – but it was far from easy for his fifth European title and his first actually in Europe.

He shut the door firmly on England’s Laurie Canter by playing the last two holes in a risk-free manner, but it was nothing like his win at Pretoria Country Club on the Sunshine Tour the week before. “Last week at my home club was probably the most fun I’ve had being in the lead,” he said, “but this would be – by a long way – the worst time I’ve had on a golf course being in the lead.”

He made five birdies in his round, but it was not as plain sailing as that statistic would suggest. He waited until the difficult seventh to make his first – it was one of only four made there during that final round – and he followed it with a 20-footer for birdie on the par-three eighth.

He eased his way around the turn with another gain on the 11th, and it was then that his tough temperament shone through. A poor drive on the par-five 12th saw him save par with a superb third out of the thick rough, and he saved par again on the next hole with yet another demonstration of his touch from the fringes.

Once he birdied 16, it looked as if he’d be able to coast home, but he made sure of things with a final birdie on the par-five 17th.

As impressive as the birdies were, it was a bunch of clutch par-saves which probably separated him from the rest of the field as he added the title to his pair of victories at Pretoria Country Club in the Tshwane Open and his win in the maiden AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open.

“Winning in Europe was the next step for me really,” he said.

“I have always had a list of things I wanted to achieve in my career as a golfer and originally I never thought I would get as far as winning on the European Tour, so ticking that box a while back was really nice, and then I started to realise that I was a bit too comfortable playing back home and I needed to go to the next step and win away from home.

“And then I won in Mauritius, which still counts as a Sunshine Tour event, so I still felt like I needed to get off my continent and win something else.

“So I am just happy that I kind of ticked the box in the right order.

“I remember as an amateur I had to win a national stroke play event and then try and win one of the big three national match play events. I ended up winning the South African amateur match play before I won the stroke play event, and I felt like I needed to take a step back and figure out how to win a stroke play event.

“It is nice that I am ticking the boxes that I have set for myself.”

Next best of the South Africans were Wilco Nienaber and Brandon Stone, who carded 68 and 69 respectively to finish on eight-under in a share of 14th, seven shots behind Coetzee. Bryce Easton battled in the final round to a three-over 74, ending up on two-under for the tournament in a share of 50th.

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