Grace completes back-to-back wins
Golf:Ernie Els and Retief Goosen did battle at Fancourt again today, but this time found themselves out-gunned by the new star of South African golf. A week after capturing his first European Tour title, 23-year-old Branden Grace beat two of his boyhood heroes in a play-off for the Volvo Golf Champions.
Amazing Grace indeed — he was at the Tour qualifying school only a month ago and did not even have a place in the 35-man winners-only field until he lifted last week’s Joburg Open. He becomes the first player since Fred Couples in 1995 to follow his first victory on the circuit with another on his very next start.
Els and Goosen were left as joint runners-up seven years after they left the rest for dead on the course in the South African Open, Goosen winning by a shot on that occasion.
“I’m really ecstatic,” said Grace after his two-putt birdie at the first extra hole. “It’s a dream come to win such a big event — pretty much the best tournament I’ve played in so far.”
He was 258th in the world little over a week ago, but now moves inside the top 100. With Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal dropping back to sixth after sharing the lead early in the final round and Padraig Harrington falling away to 10th, Grace could easily have won the event in regulation play.
But missing a birdie chance of under five feet on the last left him with a two under par 71 and put him alongside Els and Goosen on 12 under. They had shot 67 and 70 respectively, Els sinking an 18-foot eagle putt on the 13th and then almost chipping in for another at the last, while Goosen also eagled the 13th and birdied three of the last four.
Grace had fallen four behind when he double-bogeyed the third and bogeyed the fourth, but he covered the remaining 14 holes in five under to prove himself made of stern stuff.
He then hit the longest drive when the trio returned to the 549-yard 18th for sudden death and, with Els driving into the rough and Goosen pushing his second, was the only one on the green in two.
Els hit his third to 18 feet and Goosen’s chip stopped on the ridge 30 feet short of the hole. Grace, though, rolled his long first putt down to three feet and made no mistake after his rivals had both missed.
Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts was also tied for the lead with one to play, but hit a wild drive and with a bogey six had to settle for fourth place, while Masters champion Charl Schwartzel finished two back.
At least Els is now closer to returning to the world’s top 50, which he needs to do in the next two months to secure a place in The Masters, but Harrington’s 76 means he still has a lot of work to do to get back into the top 64 in time for next month’s Accenture world match play.
Els said: “A couple more putts here and there and that could have been something special. “It’s a very encouraging week, all four rounds under par, and I’m working on some good stuff.”
Olazabal, at 596th in the world the lowest-ranked player taking part, said: “The only weak part was my driver. The rest of the game has been pretty good. At certain moments in the round it looked a little bit like the old days.”
Pablo Martin and Thomas Levet, meanwhile, shared last place on 20 over, Martin recovering from his nightmare third round 90 with a 73 and Levet managing a 76 despite slipping on some stairs and bruising his ribs. That, of course, from the man who broke a leg jumping in a lake to celebrate his French Open victory last July.