Jose Coceres, who grew up in poverty in Argentina and often slept five to a bed with his brothers and sisters, will now take a five stroke lead into the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.
The 36 year old from Buenos Aires shot a third round 68 for a total of 201, 15 under par, to lead by five shots from England’s Jamie Spence (69) and by six from another pair of English golfers in Lee Westwood and Russell Claydon.
Coceres, who began the day four ahead, played superbly to increase his lead to five. It was a tremendous effort by the quiet-spoken Argentinian, one of a family of 11, who has come a long way since his childhood growing up in the Provence of Chaco, 700 miles north of Buenos Aires.
His rise from poverty to the level of top professional golfer is remarkable. As a 13 year old he first started playing the game with home-made clubs hewn from the branches of trees by his brothers and fashioned into a passable imitation of real clubs. He then started hitting small rocks with those wooden clubs.
However life was never easy. He explained: “We had only two rooms in the house when I was growing up – one for my mum and dad and one for the rest of us. Sometimes we slept five or six in the same bed. It was good when it was freezing but it wasn’t very good when it was warm!”
Even now he does not forget his roots. He added: “I really help a lot. I look after my brothers and sisters. When I have the chance I go to the really poor neighbours in Buenos Aires because I come from a place like that and I leave food and shoes and clothes and books for the little boys. Whatever they need.
“My family live close to me. I have bought three houses – one for me and two for my brothers.”
In 1992 he borrowed $45,000 from a friend in Argentina to come over to play on the European Tour. He proceeded to hole in one, coincidentally in the Dubai Desert Classic, and won a $50,000 prize. He said: “I was owing him $45,000 and I won $50,000 for the hole in one so I got even with the guy and after that I started counting.”
Spence, who admitted he was, “not quite on top” of his game, fired a 69 for second place on 206, ten under par, while Claydon made a huge move with a 64 to share third spot with Westwood on 207.
Claydon said: “That was the best I’ve played in a long, long time. I don’t know what to put it down to. I played in Australia and played awful and hurt a finger in Portugal and I was pretty awful there too.
Westwood, who came from five behind to win the TNT Dutch Open last year and retrieved a seven stroke deficit the following week in the Smurfit European Open, knows how to win from this position.
He said: “I would rather be one shot better and playing with Jose. But you never know. Sometimes if you are standing on the fairway watching the guy in front holing putts it can sow the seed of doubt in the leader’s mind.
“Jose is a good player but it’s never an easy position to be in. Everybody thinks a five shot lead is an easy position but it’s not. They soon fritter away if someone makes birdies and the other makes bogeys.”
Jarmo Sandelin of Sweden moved up from 58th to eighth after breaking the course record set by Westwood and Coceres on Thursday. Sandelin had seven birdies and an eagle in his nine under par 63.