George Coetzee stages fightback to keep Masters hopes alive

Kevin Phelan just one shot off the leaders after third round in Morocco

George Coetzee staged a superb fightback to keep his hopes of qualifying for the Masters alive in the Hassan Trophy at Golf du Palais Royal.

Coetzee needs to win in Agadir to book a trip to Augusta National for the year’s first Major championship in a fortnight’s time, but found himself six shots off the lead after a front nine of 39 on Saturday.

However, the South African carded five birdies and one bogey on the back nine to card a 71 and finish six under par, which proved enough to lie just one shot off the lead as the leaders stumbled on the closing stretch.

Scottish pair Richie Ramsay and Andrew McArthur share the lead with France's Romain Wattel on seven under, with Coetzee part of a seven-strong group which includes Ireland's Kevin Phelan, former champion David Horsey, and Argentina's Emiliano Grillo.

Coetzee, who won the Tshwane Open on his home course in Pretoria a fortnight ago, told European Tour radio: “I am quite happy. I’m quite surprised the guys haven’t gone lower.

“I’ve been battling away the last couple of days but happy to be in the mix. I made some silly errors, mental errors, but I feel like I am still in a good space so (I’m) happy with the comeback today and hopefully (it) puts me in good stead for tomorrow.

“I’ve got a bit of mental game plan going at the moment and when you make mistakes you focus on doing the mental stuff correct and it kind of takes care of itself.

“The big change came yesterday on the fifth. I hit it left and was going to hack it when my caddie said there’s three par-fives on the back nine, let’s take our punishment, take a drop and work from there. That kept reminding me about the back nine so it always keeps you in a good frame of mind.”

England's Tommy Fleetwood also needs to win on Sunday to qualify for the Masters, but is five shots off the lead after struggling to a 73 which included a triple-bogey eight on the fifth.

Just four shots separates the top 29 players and Coetzee added: “There are so many guys in the mix you can’t say that you can control it. You just have to go out and play well.”

McArthur and Wattel both carded rounds of 67 to move through the field on Saturday, with Ramsay starting the day in a share of the lead but having to settle for a 71 containing five birdies and four bogeys, the last of which on the 18th cost him the outright lead.

“It felt pretty good, it just sort of crept up on me,” said McArthur, who is making just his third European Tour start of the season. “I am delighted.

“I have accepted I am not striking it as I want to but I have found something to get it in play and try and get it pin high, hole a few putts and you never know.

“I played well in Joburg (finishing joint 18th), moved myself up a lot on the last day. I putted well so hopefully that continues tomorrow.”

Phelan lost out on a tie for top spot after he made a bogey five on the final hole, his only dropped shot of the day. The 24-year-old from Waterford also carded three birdies for his third straight round of 70 this week.

Former champion Michael Hoey saw his challenge disappear as he struggled to a four-over 76 that left him on three over.

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