South African George Coetzee carded an eight-under-par 64 for a one-stroke lead on the opening day of the US$2.5 million Commercial Bank Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club.
Coetzee finished with three straight birdies to finish one ahead of compatriot Dawie van der Walt and England’s Steve Webster, who rewrote the history books after starting his round with an albatross on the par-five 10th. Spanish duo Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Nacho Elvira, England’s Ross Fisher and Francois Calmels of France all carded 66 to share fourth.
Four-time major winner Ernie Els, the 2005 champion, chipped in for an eagle on the 18th for a 67 to share eighth place with compatriots Branden Grace and Thomas Aiken, 2012 champion Paul Lawrie, India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar and two-time major winner John Daly, back in Doha after finishing fourth two years ago.
Jason Dufner, winner of the US PGA Championship last August, opened with a 70, one shot better than World No. 11 Sergio Garcia, who was joint runner-up last January.
Coetzee, who shared second spot with Garcia last year, powered his way to the top of the leaderboard after a devastating display with his putter, needing just 21 putts.
The burly South African picked up birdies on five, seven and nine before lighting up his round with an eagle on the 10th. The burly 27-year-old from Pretoria – who is chasing his first European Tour title – followed a birdie on 12 with a bogey on 13 before signing off his round with three straight birdies.
“I was quite lucky to get away with some shots I hit today, but put on another good putting display to finish on a nice number,” Coetzee said.
“There’s always a lot of luck involved in this game, especially the way I played today. I think I had 21 putts with a three-putt, so that goes to show that I can hit the ball a little bit better. I can’t wait for it all to click, because when I do I might be unstoppable.”
Webster’s game clicked into gear in rapid fashion as the Englishman struck a five-wood 254 yards from the fairway of the 10th into the cup for an opening-hole albatross – a first on The European Tour. It was also the first albatross in the 17 years of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
“There were two people behind the green and one of them started jumping up and pointing down, so I didn’t know whether it had gone over the back into the rocks, but when I got up to the green he started clapping,” said Webster, who recorded his only other career albatross at the 2011 Open d’Italia with the same five-wood.
“It was a dream start – I’ve certainly never been three-under after one hole before. I didn’t know if it was going to be my day or whether I’d used up all my luck.”
Webster’s day got even better with five birdies in his next 12 holes, but dropped his only shot of the day on the sixth.
“I played great after that, was just really consistent and gave myself a lot of putts. I was probably a little disappointed with seven-under to be honest, because I should probably have finished on nine or 10-under.”
The French duo of Gary Stal and Romain Wattel and Welshman Stuart Manley had not finished their round when play was suspended at 5.22pm due to darkness, so will complete their last two holes on Thursday morning. The Qatar Masters marks the second leg of The European Tour’s three-part ‘Desert Swing’.
The 2014 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters runs from Wednesday 22 January to Saturday 25 January. Evening entertainment will begin from 6pm on Thursday and Friday. Both single-day (Thursday/Friday) and season tickets include entry to the concerts, which include American performers Divas of Soul on Thursday and Scottish band Texas on Friday.
Season tickets provide exceptional value, offering access to all four days of golf action, the public village and all evening entertainment for just QAR325, more than 40% less than four single-day tickets.
Single-day and season tickets for the2014 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters are available to purchase online at www.virginmegastore.me and in-store from Virgin Megastore shops in Villagio Mall and Landmark Mall, Doha, as well as Doha Golf Club.
Wednesday 22 January 2014: QAR100
Thursday 23 January 2014: QAR150 (includes evening entertainment – Divas of Soul)
Friday 24 January 2014: QAR150 (includes evening entertainment – Texas)
Saturday 25 January 2014: QAR150
Season Ticket: QAR325 (includes 22 January - 25 January event entry and all evening entertainment)
Entry is free for children under 15 years of age. For those looking for an extra-special experience, a range of popular corporate hospitality packages are available. For more information visit the tournament’s official website, www.qatar-masters.com.
United Through Golf website:www.unitedthroughgolf.com