Amazing Grace in fourth European win

8 October 2012

South Africa’s Branden Grace captured his fourth European Tour title of 2012 on Sunday with a two-shot victory in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, played at Saint Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.

“I’ve really dreamt of this moment my whole life,” he said after securing victory.

“I had goosebumps thinking this morning about Louis [winning The Open Championship at Saint Andrews in 2010] and the possibility of holding a trophy here myself.

“It was a tough day, but the putter started working and that’s all I needed to do.”

Select company

The win puts the 24-year-old South African in select company, namely Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, Miguel Angel Jiminez, Martin Kaymer, Bernhard Langer, Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods and Ian Woosnam, who also managed to win four events in a single year on the European Tour.

With his win on Sunday, though, Grace achieved something never before done: he became the first graduate of the European Tour Qualifying School to win four times in the year after his graduation.

He also became the first South African to win the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and maintained an enviable record of always winning when leading or sharing the lead heading into the final round of a tournament.

Four-shot lead

Having opened with a remarkable 60 on the Kingsbarns course, Grace followed that up with rounds of 67 and 69 to lead by four shots with a round to go on 20-under-par 196.

In the final round, however, Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen managed to draw level with Grace with seven holes to go. The South African, though, responded superbly, sinking birdie putts of 10, 12 and 14 feet on the next three holes to pull clear.

He went on to card a 70 and finish on a tournament record 22-under-par 266, two shots clear of Olesen. Sweden’s Alexander Noren claimed third on 18-under-par 270, with Joel Sjoholm in fourth on 16-under-par 272.

Course record

South Africa’s George Coetzee was on fire in the final round, equalling the Saint Andrews course record with a superb 10-under-par 62, which moved him up to a share of fifth place with Fredrik Andersson Hed, Victor Dubuisson, Stephen Gallacher, Raphael Jacquelin, Lee Slattery and Danny Willett on 15-under-par 273.

The winner’s cheque of €617 284 (approximately R7.05-million) was the largest of Grace’s career. It also helped to lift him up to third place in the Race to Dubai rankings, trailing only world number one Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose.

Just behind Grace is 2012 Open champion Ernie Els, Italy’s Francesco Molinari and Louis Oosthuizen. Like Oosthuizen and 2011 Masters’ champion Charl Schwartzel, Grace is a product of the Ernie Els Foundation, and Els himself believes Grace will become the third former member of the Foundation to win a Major title.

Meteoric rise

His rise in 2012 has certainly been meteoric. He began the year ranked 265th in the year and is now ranked 37th in the official world golf rankings.

Grace’s other European Tour victories this year include the Joburg Open and the Volvo Golf Champions in January and the Volvo China Open in April.

More recently, in September, he returned to South Africa to play in two winter events on the Sunshine Tour and won the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final for his second title of the year on The Links at Fancourt.

Besides his third place in the Race to Dubai standings, he’s also a clear leader atop the Sunshine Tour standings, almost R800 000 clear of second placed Louis Oosthuizen.

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