ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – George Coetzee shot a five-under-par 67 with just two bogeys to seemingly cruise into a share of the lead after the first round of the PGA Championship, but the multiple winner on both the Sunshine and DP World Tours said it had actually been a struggle on a typically testing day at the St Francis Links on Thursday.
Coetzee began his round with a bogey on the par-four 10th, but then went to the turn with four birdies. On the front nine, his only other drop came on the par-four fifth, with birdies on either side of it, and the 36-year-old completed his round with an excellent birdie on the par-four ninth.
Coetzee, who won the 2011 PGA Championship at Country Club Johannesburg after finishing runner-up the year before, is tied for the lead with Danie van Niekerk, the 34-year-old Lichtenburg golfer who produced a brilliant bogey-free round with three birdies on the front nine, after he also started on the 10th.
“It was definitely tricky out there and I’m happy with my score,” Coetzee said. “All-in-all, I’m happy just to be in the mix and to be in a good rhythm. I made a lot of putts on my last nine holes when it was really quite tricky, and that kept my scorecard together.
“But it was a hairy last bunch of holes into the wind,” Coetzee said.
The winner of a second consecutive Vodacom Origins of Golf Series De Zalze title when he last played in South Africa in August, Coetzee said that his two bogeys had come from a lack of familiarity with the seaside course.
“My two bogeys were basically down to a lack of knowledge of the course, taking the wrong club off the tee or playing to the wrong part of the green, like on my second on the 10th hole. Hopefully I learn quickly and make better decisions tomorrow,” Coetzee said.
The top-10 on the leaderboard at the end of the first round is filled with experienced or in-form golfers that will ensure Coetzee and Van Niekerk are kept on their toes.
Jake Roos and Hennie O’Kennedy are one shot behind on four-under with Casey Jarvis, JJ Senekal and Rhys West.
Hennie Otto, who was the runner-up in the PGA Championship in both 2002 and 2008, is with Stefan Wears-Taylor and Samuel Simpson on three-under.
The PGA Championship is South Africa’s second-oldest professional tournament and Otto would dearly love to add that title to his 2011 SA Open win at Serengeti Estate.