Grace shares lead at Fancourt
Branden Grace (Gallo Images)
George - There were clear indications that Branden Grace
was the favourite for this week’s Vodacom Origins of Golf final at The Links at Fancourt even before he claimed a share of the first round lead on Wednesday.
For a start, he’s a three-time European Tour winner this year. One of those wins was here in January, when he beat Ernie Els
and Retief Goosen
in a playoff for the Volvo Golf Champions.
And even the world rankings reflected his status in this week’s field. A winter event on the Sunshine Tour usually offers four world ranking points to the winner. Grace’s presence here, as well as that of fellow European Tour campaigner George Coetzee, has raised the points for a win to 10.
So there was little surprise when Grace opened with a four-under-par 69 to share the lead with Chris Swanepoel, Divan van den Heever and Riekus Nortje in the final event of this six-tournament Vodacom Origins series.
“I didn’t play that well, but I got it going. The key on this course is to keep your misses in the right positions,” said Grace, who along with his co-leaders is one stroke clear of Neil Schietekat
and Ulrich van den Berg.
Van den Berg is due a win, while at two strokes off the lead, Allan Versfeld is hunting a second victory on this series this year.
But Grace will be tough to beat on a course he knows extremely well, and where he has the positive memories of one of the biggest victories of his career.
“I feel very relaxed,” he said of only his third tournament in South Africa since winning the Volvo Golf Champions here. “I’m obviously here to do a job and win, but I don’t see much of my friends and it’s great to get on the golf course and have a bit of a laugh with them.” There’s also a touch of irony in the fact that he is playing in a tournament celebrating the career of Goosen.
“I’ve gotten to know Retief really well after I beat him and Ernie here in the Volvo Golf Champions. Retief has put a lot back into SA golf, and this series has been unreal. It gives a lot of opportunities for the Sunshine Tour pros. He’s a great guy, and a great ambassador for golf in South Africa.”
Swanepoel’s 69 was the result of him focusing more on enjoying his game than paying the bills. “I got married four months ago, and while it’s great, you feel a lot of weight on your shoulders looking after a wife and a house and so on,” he said at the end of a round that began with two bogeys but then caught fire with a chip-in for birdie on the par-three eighth.
And Nortje clearly benefitted from his practice round with Grace, and a few conversations about this mercurial game.
“He took some money off me in the practice round, but it gave me the chance to ask a lot of questions. He’s a good person to learn from.”
Scores (RSA unless specified):
69 - Chris Swanepoel, Branden Grace
, Divan van den Heever, Riekus Nortje
70 - Neil Schietekat
, Ulrich van den Berg
71 - Michiel Bothma, Allan Versfeld, Jake Redman, Desvonde Botes, Steve Basson, Ruan de Smidt, Ryan Tipping, Warren Abery, Vaughn Groenewald
72 - Ross Wellington, Charl Coetzee
, Louis de Jager, Francois Haughton, Anthony Michael, Alex Haindl, Brandon Pieters
73 - Trevor Fisher Jnr, Grant Muller, Alan Michell, Danie van Tonder, Jake Roos, Darryn Lloyd, Andrew Curlewis, Oliver Bekker, James Kamte, Johan du Buisson
74 - Matthew Carvell, Tyrone Ferreira, Theunis Spangenberg
75 - Jared Harvey, Wallie Coetsee, Andrew Georgiou, Titch Moore, Jean Hugo, Neil Cheetham (ENG), Joshua Cunliffe, Hendrik Buhrmann, Graham van der Merwe, George Coetzee, Jacques Blaauw
76 - Pieter Moolman, PH McIntyre, Francois Coetzee, Dean O'Riley, David Hewan
77 - David Ryan, Louis Calitz, Omar Sandys, Andre Cruse, Albert Pistorius, Bradford Vaughan
, Jaco Ahlers, Shaun Norris, Colin Nel
78 - Michael Hollick, Daniel Greene, JG Claassen, Lyle Rowe
79 - Christiaan Basson
, Des Terblanche
80 - Bryce Easton, Merrick Bremner, Doug McGuigan
81 - Lindani Ndwandwe
83 - Ockie Strydom, Thabang Simon