Grace lifts Volvo Golf Champions title

23 January 2012

South Africa’s Branden Grace defeated fellow countrymen and long-time idols Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a playoff to win the star-studded Volvo Golf Champions at The Links at Fancourt in the Western Cape on Sunday.

With an elite 35-man field, made up of European Tour winners from the previous season and players who had won 10 or more European Tour titles in their careers, the Volvo Golf Champions win was undoubtedly the most prestigious title of the 23-year-old’s career.

It was also Grace’s second European Tour title in succession, extending his lead at the top of the Race to Dubai standings.

Apart from the biggest winner’s cheque of his career of €350 000 (approximately R3.59-million, bringing his two-week haul to R5.71-million), Grace secured some important extras, including European Tour exemption until 2014, and places at the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, WGC-HSBC Champions, and the 2013 Volvo Golf Champions.

Grace produced two fine rounds to lead the event by four shots at the halfway mark, after shooting a 68 and a 66, but a 75 in the third round pulled the field closer together, with Grace and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts leading on six-under-par 209, one shot clear of Charl Schwartzel and Goosen, and two ahead of Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabel.

Els began the final round four shots off the pace, but found his form to come home in 67 after three successive rounds of 71. Goosen, meanwhile, was steady and posted a 70 to go with previous rounds of 72, 68, and 70 to join Els on 12-under-par 280.

‘Just a little too soft’

Playing behind Goosen and Els, Grace had an opportunity to wrap up victory on the final hole with a short four-foot putt for birdie. Shockingly, he missed, setting up a three-way playoff. “I actually thought I’d hit a good putt, but it was just a little too soft,” he told the Sunshine Tour’s website.

That miss sent the trio back to the 18th. Els found the rough on the left off the tee and was forced to lay up, while Goosen and Grace knocked their drives down the fairway. Goosen’s second, however, found the front right of the green. His chip was disappointing, leaving him far from the hole.

Grace, meanwhile, had two putts for birdie, while Els needed a long putt to extend the playoff. Els failed to sink it and Grace tapped in for the win.

‘I’ve beaten Ernie and Retief in a playoff

“I’ve beaten Ernie and Retief in a playoff and I know that I can do it again,” Grace said after securing victory.

By following up his maiden title in the Joburg Open with a second win just a week later, he became only the sixth man in European Tour history to achieve the feat and the first since Fred Couples in 1995.

Grace’s win was the fifth by a South African in the last seven European Tour events. It will also catapult him up the official world golf rankings from 258th place just over a week ago to inside the top 100.

With the victory at Fancourt, he also became only the fifth South African to win back-to-back European Tour titles, following Dale Hayes (1978 Italian Open and French Open), Ernie Els (2005 Dubai Desert Classic and Qatar Masters), Richard Sterne (2009 Alfred Dunhill Championship and South African Open Championship) and Charl Schwartzel (2010 Africa Open and Joburg Open).

LEADERBOARD

  • Branden Grace (-12) 68, 66, 75, 71, 280
  • Ernie Els (-12) 71, 71, 71, 67, 280
  • Retief Goosen (-12) 72, 68, 70, 70, 280
  • Nicolas Colsaerts (-11) 64, 76, 69, 72, 281
  • Charl Schwartzel (-10) 75, 67, 68, 72, 282
  • Jose Maria Olazabel (-8) 71, 68, 72, 73, 284
  • Raphael Jacquelin (-6) 71, 69, 77, 69, 286
  • Louis Oosthuizen (-6) 69, 71, 72, 74, 286
  • Thomas Aiken (-5) 68, 70, 77, 72, 287
  • Padraig Harrington (-4) 69, 73, 70, 76, 288
  • Paul Lawrie (-4) 72, 68, 74, 74, 288
  • Oliver Fisher (-4) 77, 72, 69, 71, 288
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