The Open 2014: Liverpool supporter George Coetzee’s birthday surprise

Title contender hoping for 'a couple of season tickets' to Anfield if he wins the tournament

Well, he is a Liverpool fan and it was his birthday, so to see his name at the top of an Open leaderboard at Royal Liverpool was only fitting, really. If only golf, and life, were that simple.

It was talent not fate that propelled George Coetzee into contention today, a round of 69 topped by a birdie at the last comprising a brilliant effort in conditions considerably stiffer than those of the opening day. With three to play, the 28-year-old South African achieved a lifetime’s ambition by putting his name alongside overnight leader Rory McIlroy on top of a big yellow beacon, the sight of which made his knees quiver.

The wind that gusted at upwards of 25mph at its height reined him in at 16 and 17, forcing errors that produced successive bogeys, but he finished like his hero Kenny Dalglish with that closing birdie in front of the packed grandstands framing the last hole.

“This is my favourite major,” he said. “It’s nice to play well, obviously, in a very prestigious event. And to have my birthday coincide with it is also nice.”

Coetzee is old school 28. He smokes like a Moscow cabbie and likes to kick back with a tipple or two with his mates around the braai. On the course he has only one gear: attack.

He made his major debut three years ago at Royal St George’s, where he opened with a pair of 69s but never led. The memory of that week informed him coming down the back nine here. “As a junior, I wasn’t very good at the coast,” Coetzee said. “Up until the age of 16, I never broke 80 at the coast. Never mind playing in links, I couldn’t understand why the ball was going so short. But as the years went on, I tried to kind of teach myself how to play at the coast. I was two off the pace at best [in 2011]. Obviously being my first major, at that stage of my career I averaged 69s for majors.

“Six under [McIlroy] was a hell of a score on Thursday. And I didn’t think it was doable [today] to get to that number, but when I made birdie on the par-three 13th I was like, ‘well, now I’m pretty close, I think I’m in the top 10’. And then the next one and the next one went in and I realised quickly. It was a good feeling.”

A little like discovering Liverpool FC. “I’ve been a Liverpool fan since I was six. I was watching football on the TV in South Africa with my sister, and she said: ‘Which team do you want to win, the team in red or the team in yellow?’

“I said I’d take the team in red, and it turned out it was Liverpool against Norwich. And I’ve supported them ever since. It would be special if I do well this week, with Anfield just down the road. If I win it, maybe they’ll give me a couple of season tickets.”