George Coetzee masterclass secures victory at Vilamoura
Traditionally the Portugal Masters is enjoyed by tens of thousands of enthralled spectators at the fabulous Dom Pedro Golf Victoria course in Vilamoura. However, due to the current pandemic, this year’s 14th edition went ahead with virtually no fans in attendance, although a global TV audience savoured another fantastic tournament characterised by great golf, drama, and excitement. Portugal’s blue ribbon tournament has a reputation for providing wonderful action, with nail-bitingly close finishes, and the 2020 tournament lived up to the event’s enviable reputation.
On the penultimate day, South Africa’s George Coetzee returned a round of 66, overturning an eight-shot deficit, for a precious one-shot lead going into the last round of the 14th Portugal Masters. Coetzee had begun the competition in confident mood, having won the previous week on the Sunshine Tour at Pretoria. Despite overnight leader, Frenchman, Julien Guerrier’s eight-shot advantage, Coetzee’s class and determination propelled him into pole position for a final day surge.
The South African’s championship performance was characterised by relatively quiet starts on both of his last two rounds, before finding the groove and eliminating the threat of some first-class performers. Runner-up, England’s Laurie Canter, holed a monster putt on the 18th, to set up the prospect of the first ever play-off at the Portugal Masters, but Coetzee again rose to the challenge by returning a trophy-winning final round of 66, and a two-shot victory. Canter reflected on his potentially game-changing putt at the last, and also paid tribute to Coetzee: “That putt was awesome …at that point I still felt like maybe I had a chance, you know anything can happen on 16, 17, 18, but George is class; he closed out really well.”
Canter’s compatriot, Tommy Fleetwood had also served notice of his challenge with a closing round 64, eventually finishing in joint 3rd place with Denmark’s Joakim Lagergren. As the tournament neared its exciting conclusion, Coetzee had the potential advantage of holes still to play, but nearest challengers, Canter, Fleetwood, and Lagergren, having completed their final rounds, remained glued to the TV screens, prepared to capitalise on any slip-up from the South African. Coetzee however displayed skill, confidence and determination to extinguish any lingering hopes of the challengers, and secure a fifth European Tour title – his first on European soil.
In similar style to his previous rounds, Coetzee had begun the final day’s play quietly, relinquishing top spot early on, after his pars on the opening six holes.
However, the 34-year-old then ignited his round at the Victoria Course with gains on the 7th, 8th and 11th, before brilliant birdie putts at the 16th and 17th moved him to 16 under-par, for a vital two-shot cushion heading to the last. Canter’s memorable putt to secure his best ever European tour performance ensured that Coetzee had to remain focused with victory in sight, and the South African duly provided a composed finish for victory.
Following his triumph, an ecstatic Coetzee conveyed his personal appreciation of the Portugal Masters: “Some of the events I target are the Qatar Masters and the Portugal Masters because I tend to play really well in those countries and the golf courses really suit me. I was very nervous playing this course and knowing that there are booby traps around the corner every now and then, so stepping on to 18 and hitting the best drive I hit all week, I was shocked!”
From day one of the 2020 Portugal Masters, it was clear that the tournament was set to live up to its reputation for drama, and excitement. In the first round, Scotland’s Liam Johnston was tantalisingly on the verge of at least equalling the historic ‘59’ carded at the same venue in 2018 by England’s Oliver Fisher. While eventually finishing with a sensational 61, to earn the overnight lead after day one, the modest Scot revealed that he was blissfully unaware of his chance to record the historic score: “I had no idea (that 59 was a possibility). I was trying to hole out on 17 to make eagle, and just left it a little bit short.” To complete the lowest round of his European Tour career, Johnston finished with a tidy par on the last.
With career-best performances from such as Johnston and Laurie Canter, it’s clear that the Portugal Masters retains its magic for top international golfers.
Planning has already begun for next year’s tournament at the fabulous Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, Vilamoura, and Peter Adams, Portugal Masters Championship Director, has paid tribute to the event’s Portuguese hosts for facilitating this year’s tournament, originally due to be staged in October: “I must thank the Dom Pedro Hotels & Golf Collection and Turismo de Portugal for their support, which allowed the Portugal Masters to be re-scheduled for September.”
The memorable performances of top international golfers at the fabulous Dom Pedro Victoria course this year point to a bright future for the fabulous Portugal Masters. George Coetzee’s name is now added to those on the event’s magnificent trophy, and he joins an illustrious list of past winners to have triumphed in the beautiful Algarve. Hopefully the 15th Portugal Masters in 2021 will again be graced by its traditional legions of spectators at Vilamoura, but the event is absolutely guaranteed to once again feature some of the world’s top players competing in one the golfing calendar’s most prestigious, international tournaments.
By TOM CALLAN