Liam Johnston aims to learn from Portugal Masters highs and lows

Scot finishes joint-15th behind George Coetzee in Vilamoura

Sunday, 13th September 2020, 8:22 pm
George Coetzee of South Africa celebrates his victory in the Portugal Masters yesterday. Picture: Getty

Liam Johnston described his week as a “learning curve” as the Dumfries man had to settle for a top-15 finish behind South African George Coetzee in the Portugal Masters in 
Vilamoura.

Johnston, who doesn’t hold a full card for the European Tour at the moment, started the event at Dom Pedro Victoria with a career-best 10-under-par 61 before signing off with two birdies for a 71.

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The 27-year-old found himself grinding a lot in between, though, and was frustrated that two early bogeys in the final round dropped him out of the title hunt after starting out with overnight leader Coetzee in his sights.

“It was nice to finish on a high, but I was disappointed how today went overall,” said Johnston after finishing alongside compatriot Grant Forrest (68) in a tie for 15th on eight under. “I hit lots of good putts out there, but they kept missing. Sometimes you have days like that, but I just ground it out. It could easily have got away from me and gone the other way, so I was pleased to finish with two birdies.”

The two-time Challenge Tour winner reckons he will be in a better position mentally to deal with being in the lead if he can get off to a similar blistering start in the near future, having had a chance of becoming only the second player on the top tour to card 59 in that opening round.

“I went into second day having no idea what to expect,” he added. “I’d never done anything like that in a tournament like this. It’s all a learning curve. It was cool to do, but I just need to learn from the week.

“I would definitely have taken this finish at the start of the week, but, when you have a chance going into Sunday in a decent spot, you want to post a better number. That’s just the competitor in you.” Coetzee claimed his fifth title triumph on the circuit but first on European soil with a two-shot success, signing off with a second successive 66 to finish on 16-under. Englishman Laurie Canter holed a monster par putt on the last to claim second spot, as Tommy Fleetwood signed off with a 64 in his US Open warm-up to share third with Swede Joakim Lagergren (65) on 13-under.

“That was the next step for me really (winning on European soil),” said Coetzee. “I have always had a list of things I wanted to achieve in my career as a golfer and originally I never thought I would get as far as winning on the European Tour, so ticking that box a while back was really nice. Then I started to realise that I was a bit comfortable playing back home and I needed to go to the next step and win away from home.”

The win, which was effectively sealed as he almost holed his tee shot at the par-3 16th, came a week after Coetzee had landed an 11th Sunshine Tour title victory at his home club in 
Pretoria.

“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! I told my caddie, I can’t believe I just did that, and my preparation mentally kind of paid off as well.

“It has been my focus in lockdown. You would be surprised at the stuff I had been working on. I was actually doing keepy uppy with a football to see how many I could do to test my mental skills because we weren’t allowed to do much else. I was practising darts, all sorts of funny things away from golf to work on my mental game, which was really exciting for me and I didn’t know what the end result was going to be, but I am very happy to see that it is giving me 
victories.”

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