Portugal Masters: George Coetzee beats by Laurie Canter by two shots

George Coetzee

South Africa’s George Coetzee - an 18/1 pre-tournament selection from Ben Coley - revealed how an unusual combination of snooker, darts and football during lockdown laid the foundation for his fifth European Tour title and a second victory in the space of a week in the Portugal Masters.

Leaderboard

-16 Coetzee

-14 Canter

-13 Fleetwood, Lagergren

-11 Kawamura

-10 Lemke, Rodriguez

Round four report

South Africa’s George Coetzee - an 18/1 pre-tournament selection from Ben Coley - revealed how an unusual combination of snooker, darts and football during lockdown laid the foundation for his fifth European Tour title and a second victory in the space of a week in the Portugal Masters.

Coetzee carded a closing 66 at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura to finish 16 under par, two shots ahead of England’s Laurie Canter, who also returned a 66.

Pre-tournament favourite Tommy Fleetwood completed his preparations for the US Open in style with a superb 64 to finish a shot further back alongside Sweden’s Joakim Lagergren.

Coetzee took a one-shot lead into the final round but fell two behind Masahiro Kawamura after the Japanese player carded three early birdies.

However, Coetzee ended a run of six straight pars with birdies on the seventh and eighth and picked up another shot on the 11th before enjoying a major slice of luck on the next, where his drive only cleared the water by a few feet and stuck in the bank of the hazard.

Canter ended a run of 10 straight pars with birdies on the 16th and 17th to briefly catch Coetzee, but moments later the 34-year-old almost holed his tee shot to the 16th and converted the birdie putt from close range.

Another birdie on the 17th gave Coetzee the cushion of a two-shot lead and a straightforward par on the last secured a second win in seven days following his success in the Titleist Championship on the Sunshine Tour at his home club in Pretoria.

“I’m ecstatic,” Coetzee said. “It’s the work me and my psychologist have been doing and it’s nice to see it pay off.

“You’d be surprised at the stuff I was working on during lockdown. I was doing keepy uppys with a football to test my mental skills. At the start I could do maybe five, at the end of lockdown I could do 86 if I entered with a good frame of mind.

“I was practising darts, I was practising all sorts of funny things away from golf to work on my mental game. But the main sport I focused on was snooker. It’s probably the closest sport you get to golf because it’s a stationary ball that you have to approach in a certain way.

“I don’t have any technical background in snooker, everything was based on my frame of mind. At the start of lockdown I could do maybe a 20 break, at the end I almost made a 50 break.

“Unfortunately I lost my club championship semi-final last Monday – maybe that’s what inspired me to win back-to-back weeks to feel better about myself!”

Canter’s second place is the 30-year-old from Bath’s best finish on the European Tour and it was secured in some style by holing from 35 feet for par on the last after finding sand with his approach.

“The bunker shot was horrendous but to hole that putt is awesome,” Canter said. “At that point I still felt like maybe I had a chance but George is class and closed it out really well. But overall I’m really chuffed.”

Fleetwood was equally pleased with his final round and preparations for a much tougher test at Winged Foot in the second major of the season.

“I’m very, very happy with how I played and it’s nice to put yourself in contention and have to hit shots like I did on 17 and 18 down the stretch,” Fleetwood said.

“I was nowhere near for a few weeks in America and it’s so hard to take a step back when you’re playing tournaments because you always have a round of golf to play.

“I did some really good practice and I wanted to play this week because I was working on things I knew were right, but you have to hit shots (in competition) because that’s the only time you’re going to find out how it’s doing.”

Round three report

George Coetzee went from eight behind to one ahead on day three of the Portugal Masters, where Julien Guerrier gave up his halfway advantage.

Guerrier had led by five after 36 holes - the largest lead on the European Tour after two rounds since 2016 - but having made 16 birdies in doing so, he made not one on Saturday in a third-round 74.

That allowed the chasing pack to circle in and it was Coetzee who took full advantage, finishing off with a quartet of threes to pick up four shots and take the outright lead.

Japan's Masahiro Kawamura also made a big move in a best-of-the-day 65 which saw him join Guerrier in second place. Nicklas Lemke and Laurie Canter - the latter, like Coetzee, part of our staking plan - are tied for fourth.

Guerrier got off to a solid start but bogeys at the fourth and ninth saw him fall back towards the pack, and he finally surrendered the lead with another dropped shot at the short 15th following a wild drive into trees.

A pulled tee-shot at the 16th cost him another and he failed to take advantage of a welcome fairway found at the par-five 17th in a miserable round which changed the complexion of the tournament.

Coetzee finished more than an hour earlier and was in second place after a birdie at the 15th, a good par save at the 16th and then a brilliant finish saw him complete a round of 66. The South African, who won at his home course last weekend, fired his second shot to tap-in range at the 17th for an eagle before a birdie at the last.

Playing alongside him, Canter endured another day of torment with the putter but kept in the battle thanks to some quality ball-striking, highlighted by a fine wedge to the last only to miss from inside five feet.

He's alongside Lemke in fourth, the latter having matched Kawamura's 65, a score also registered by last week's winner John Catlin who now finds himself in ninth and among the big group of potential champions.

Coetzee said: "I kind of felt like I was in a good space today and I didn’t really get going on the front nine, missed a couple of good opportunities on the back nine with the first couple of holes, but then when I started finally making them it was smooth sailing from there.

"It was a bit of a grind but you just have to hold on tight until you get a good opportunity."

Round two report

World number 670 Julien Guerrier established a commanding lead at the halfway stage of the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura.

Guerrier, who won twice on the Challenge Tour in 2017 but is seeking a first European Tour title, added a second round of 66 to his opening 62 at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course.

At 14 under par, the 35-year-old Frenchman ended the day five shots clear of American Sihwan Kim, whose erratic 66 included a back nine featuring six birdies and three bogeys.

“I’m feeling great,” said Guerrier, who played just five events in 2019 due to injury. “It looks easy but it’s not. After you shoot nine under it’s always tough to make a good score, so I’m really happy to play well.

“I just try to hit the fairways and hit the greens. I’m feeling good on the greens, so I think it’s easier when you are confident around the ball.

“After the injury you try to get a good level and find your mark on your game under pressure, so it’s perfect for me to play on the weekend.”

Overnight leader Liam Johnston could only add a 74 to his opening 61 to slip back to seven under par and a nine-way tie for third place.

Pre-tournament favourite Tommy Fleetwood is 11 shots off the pace after recovering from playing the first seven holes in three over par to return a 71 and remain three under.

“As much of a round of two halves as it was, my putting really stopped me from having a pretty decent round,” the world number 16 said before heading to the putting green.

“There is a score (out there). I don’t want to go out there and force it, just keep doing the things that I’ve been doing. The last two days the back nine has been so encouraging the way I’ve hit it, put that together for two nines and hole a few putts and there’s your score.

“I’ll just stick to what I’ve been doing because it’s given me a lot of good feelings.”

Round one report

Scotland’s Liam Johnston revealed he was blissfully unaware of his opportunity to card only the second 59 in European Tour history after setting a blistering pace at the Portugal Masters.

At the same venue where Oliver Fisher made history in 2018, Johnston went to the turn in 31 before firing five birdies in his next seven holes to leave him needing an eagle-birdie finish to break the magical 60 barrier.

The 27-year-old from Dumfries found the green in two on the par-five 17th, but left his eagle attempt short of the hole and was unable to find an unlikely two on the difficult par-four 18th.

A 10-under-par 61 beat his previous lowest score on the European Tour by six shots and gave Johnston a one-shot lead over France’s Julien Guerrier on a day of typically low scoring at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura.

“I had no idea,” Johnston said when asked if a 59 had been in his sights. “I thought it was a par 72, but I was obviously trying to hole the putt on 17 for eagle but left it a little bit short before making a nice par on the last.”

“I told my coach that I was swinging it as good as I have. My game feels as it is really trending in the right direction and, more importantly, I have really improved mentally. I wouldn’t say I felt a round like this has been coming, but I have been playing well.

“With the rough out there it was nice to keep the bogeys off the card. I saved well when I needed to, holing a lot of good putts out there, and I am delighted with the 10 birdies.”

Guerrier carded nine birdies in his bogey-free 62, with England’s Laurie Canter two shots further back following a 64.

“I think this is my fifth time playing here and the biggest shame is there is usually quite a big cohort from Bath who come and watch,” Canter said.

“I’ve got a couple of really good mates that come along, they come along every year and they love it so they’ll be gutted, especially as I’ve started playing all right.”

Pre-tournament favourite Tommy Fleetwood carded a three-under-par 68 containing five birdies and two bogeys, the last of which came following an uncharacteristic hooked drive into the water on the 18th.

“The back nine was probably the best I’ve hit my irons for a long time,” Fleetwood said.

“I practised putting late last night and the green was burnt to a crisp and I think that put me off a little bit. I thought they were going to be rapid and at times I was a little bit weak with my pace.

“Overall I was happy. I had a dodgy spell and then started hitting it well and had chances. The course is a different test to what it’s always been. I drove it great, ignoring the one on the last, and gave myself a lot of chances.”

Defending champion Steven Brown matched Fleetwood’s 68.

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