The withdrawal of Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed and a couple of other players from this week’s Turkish Airlines Open wasn’t the best news for the tournament, but at the same time it was glad tidings for several South Africans – most notably George Coetzee.
Last week Coetzee wasn’t even in the Turkey showpiece – the first of three lucrative events in the European Tour’s Final Series – but the decision by the Northern Irishman and the American not to play, helped the talented Pretoria Country Club professional move up the Race to Dubai’s points list and into the no-cut 76-man lineup.
The $7-million shootout begins on Thursday at Carya Golf Club at the Regnum Carya Resort and Spa, near the ancient city of Antalya on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
The handful of withdrawals has also seen Coetzee’s fellow South Africans Justin Walters and Darren Fichardt squeeze their way into the starting field. They join compatriots Richard Sterne, SA Open champion Brandon Stone, Jaco van Zyl, Thomas Aiken and Joburg Open champion Haydn Porteous on the tee in a quest for the first prize of over $1-million.
Coetzee has had an up-and-down season after fracturing his ankle in September last year while surfing in Bali. When he jumped off his board into water he didn’t realize it was only ankle deep – he broke his left fibula which brought to a premature end a terrific season on the fairways of the world. He had won twice on the European Tour in 2015 – in the Tshwane Open and the Mauritius Open. And in August, shortly before the surfing accident, he had placed seventh in the US PGA, his best finish in a major championship.
But the ankle injury did set him back and 2016 has been a battle by comparison. He feels, though, that there is light at the end of the tunnel and a good performance this week should see him in the lineup for next week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge, and possibly the season finale in Dubai.
Van Zyl, for his part, will be hoping to go one better this week after finishing second in last year’s Turkish Airlines Open behind France’s Victor Dubuisson.
Meanwhile, McIlroy’s chances of becoming the first player to win the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup and the European Tour’s Race to Dubai in the same season has taken a serious hit following his decision not to play this week.
The Ulsterman hinted at safety concerns as the reason for his withdrawal, saying ‘I think it’s obvious’, when asked about his reasoning, as Turkey has dealt with deadly bombing attacks for the past year.
McIlroy trails Henrik Stenson and Danny Willett (who will both be at Sun City next week) in the Race to Dubai standings after the HSBC Champions, and will fall further behind as the season comes to a close by skipping the event in Turkey. He said he isn’t worried about this as he’s already proved himself, having won the Race to Dubai last year as well as this year’s FedEx Cup.
McIlroy isn’t the only big name to skip the Turkish Airlines Open, as Tiger Woods also withdrew after pulling out of the Safeway Open earlier in October.
By Grant Winter