Grace sees Coetzee as his biggest threat in inaugural event
Branden Grace still has two more chances to make an unforgettable 2012 even better.
This time last year the South African was preparing for the European Tour qualifying school, never guessing that after a successful week in Spain he would go on to win five times in the next 10 months.
Now he is back home for this weekend’s inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship in Durban and next week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek, the final two events of the Sunshine Tour season and first two on the new European schedule.
Grace leads the Sunshine money list and sees compatriot George Coetzee, runner-up to Henrik Stenson in the South African Open last month, as his biggest threat. “I think next week will be the one decider of who’s going to take it,” the 24-year-old said yesterday.
“We’re both up for the challenge and for the last couple of months we’ve been joking around about which is mine and which is his. It’s going to be a good couple of weeks.
“To get your name on the Order of Merit trophy is something on its own. It’s another good thing to put your name in the record books for.
“Although it’s the end of the season there is still a lot up for grabs. I know in Georgie’s case he wants to win – he can get into the Volvo (Golf Champions), which is a big event coming up.
“Whether you’re the favourite or the underdog, I think I’ve proved this year that anything can happen.”
As for next year Grace, currently 36th in the world, said: “I will be more focused on the Majors – I’ve secured my spots for all four. It’s starting all over again, same as this year – getting the first win and moving from there because you’re playing events you’ve never played before. Every guy wants to win one, but next year I just want to find my feet in the States. I can’t say win a Major, but try to compete in them and in the bigger events.
“Then again, if it’s your week it’s your week, so hopefully I can pull it through.”
Many of the players who graduated from last week’s qualifying school have an instant chance to make a name for themselves like Grace did – and also some of those who failed.
Former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson and Welshman Rhys Davies, for example, have both received invitations.
Wilson missed out by only two shots in Girona but Davies, one of Britain’s brightest prospects only two years ago, did not even make it through the 72-hole cut after finishing 121st on last season’s money list – two places too low to keep his card.
Highest honour Love wins Jones Award
Davis Love III, winner of the 1997 PGA Championship and US captain at the 2012 Ryder Cup, was named as recipient of the US Golf Association’s Bob Jones Award yesterday.
Presented annually since 1955, the award, considered the USGA’s highest honour, recognises an individual who demonstrates the spirit, personal character and respect for the game exhibited by Jones. Love (48) has represented the United States as a player in six Ryder Cups.
Mandela Championship: The lowdown
Course: Royal Durban Golf Club, South Africa.
Prize-money: €1 million.
Irish playing: Damien McGrane (tees off 10.10am , Irish time).
Key hole: Seventh, par four (was par five), 468yds. Probably playing with crosswinds and will be very hard.
Closing holes: 16th, 17th and 18th are going to be very important. You’ve got two tough par fours and then a pretty beastly closing hole now. 18th will be a pivotal hole; used to be a par five but now a tricky par four.