Coetzee in top form for Open

2011-07-13 22:17

Johannesburg - George Coetzee will head into the British Open at Royal St Georges on Thursday in the best form of his career.

Since turning professional in 2007, Coetzee has won four times on the local Sunshine Tour and is fresh off a third place finish at the Scottish Open last week.

In his debut appearance at the oldest Major on the calendar, he is drawn in the second last group, teeing off at 5pm (SA time).

Coetzee, who earned his place at The Open through a recent qualifying event, has made huge improvements this year and is now ranked 126th in the world after his second third-place finish of the season.

He lies 37th in the Race to Dubai (the season-long money list on the European Tour) and looks a certainty to retain his card for next season.

The big hitting Coetzee, who averages 296 yards off the tee on the European Tour this season, also has good experience in strong wind conditions.

Gusts of up to 48km/h are expected for the opening round.

Many local fans will expect Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and defending champion Louis Oosthuizen to be among the top contenders come the final round on Sunday, but Coetzee, who celebrates his 25th birthday on Monday, could well give the leaders a scare.

Another South African making his debut at The Open is Martin Maritz, who recently returned to the Sunshine Tour after spending three years as a club pro in the US.

Maritz made his way into The Open courtesy of a qualifier played at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club in January, a week after the Joburg Open.

Fellow South African Neil Schietekat made it into The Open field through the same qualifier.

"When I stopped playing full-time three years ago, there were two things I was a bit disappointed about," Maritz said earlier this year.

"One was not winning a tournament and the other was not playing in a Major."

Speaking about the course on his website after a practice round last week, Maritz said the wind at the coastal course could make a big difference.

"The course definitely showed its teeth with 30-mile-an-hour (48km/h) winds out of a slightly different direction than usual.

"Just to give you an example of how hard it was blowing, I reached a par five in two shots with a driver and a wedge and could not reach a par four in two shots - with a driver and a three wood.

"Overall, I thought the course was set up very fair, but I don't think it could have played much harder than today; I hope."

The other South Africans playing in the year's third Major - there are 10 in total - are Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Thomas Aiken, Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman.