George - There is a new maturity to Branden Grace, and it showed as he calmly took a four-stroke lead on Friday after the second round of the €2-million Volvo Champions at The Links at Fancourt.
“I’ve been really, really relaxed,” he said. “I’m just trying to stick to my game plan, try to do what I do and mind my own business.”
He fired a seven-under-par 66 over the 6,662-metre (7,271-yard) par-73 Gary Player-designed layout for a halfway total of 12-under-par 134, with England’s Lee Slattery and South African compatriot Thomas Aiken on 138.
It has been a dizzying three weeks for the man who secured his European Tour card at Qualifying School Final Stage in Span last December: Grace shared 14th in the Africa Open, claimed his maiden European Tour title in last week’s Joburg Open, and is now looking the calmest of all in a field of champions which includes eight major title holders.
“I’ve been really calm the last few days, which has been a big relief,” Grace said. “It would be nice to keep the nerves down – just play golf and enjoy it – the same as last week.”
His 66 came as a result of eight birdies and a bogey – on the 402-metre (439-yard) par-four seventh – and it came in the face of driving that was not as good as it was in his opening 68.
“The driving wasn’t really on, but I still kept the round going though I missed a lot of fairways,” he said.
The Grace of last year would have become agitated at problems creeping into his game, but this year’s model is noticeably slower and more measured.
“I used to be a really quick player,” he said. “The previous Branden would change clubs, but now I try to keep it as simple as possible for myself and give myself opportunities. My caddie Zac Rasego has really helped with htat too, giving me the right words at the right time.”
For all its elegance, Grace’s round wasn’t the best of the day. Slattery carded an eight-under-par 65 in a round that had two bogeys in it.
“I just played really nicely,” said Slattery. “I felt like I hit a couple of bad chips, but apart from that I played great golf. I was a bit more aggressive today and hit a lot more drivers off the tees. If you keep it in play, you’re going to set up birdie chances, and that’s what I did.”
Aiken had to deal with a cracked driver head after he made three birdies on the trot ahead of the turn. He reached halfway in 32, and then began to be wayward and short off the tee.
“The secret to the back nine is to score on the par-fives,” he said, “and I wasn’t able to do that. I hit driver off 13 and it barely carried 240 metres, and on 16 it was just 250, and neither of them were straight.
“I took three-wood on 18, and just tried to force it a little and hit it into the rough on the left. But I got out well and made a good bogey there,” he added.
One shot behind Slattery and Aiken was Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal, who carded a fine 68 to be five shots behind Grace.
The two current major champions in the field – Open champion Darren Clarke and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel – were on four-under 142.
Clarke carded a five-under 68, while Schwartzel eagled 18 to sign for a 67 as his putting finally seemed to come back to him.
Scores (RSA unless specified):
134 - Branden Grace 68 66
138 - Lee Slattery (ENG) 73 65, Thomas Aiken 68 70
139 - Jose Maria Olazabal (ESP) 71 68
140 - Retief Goosen 72 68, Alexander Noren (SWE) 72 68, Paul Lawrie(SCO) 72 68, Hennie Otto 71 69, Raphael Jacquelin (FRA) 71 69, Louis Oosthuizen 69 71, Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL) 64 76
141 - Thomas Bjorn (DEN) 71 70, Joost Luiten (NED) 69 72, David Horsey (ENG) 69 72
142 - Charl Schwartzel 75 67, Darren Clarke (NIR) 74 68, Ernie Els 71 71, Padraig Harrington (IRL) 69 73, Tom Lewis (ENG) 68 74
143 - Robert Rock (ENG) 73 70, Miguel Angel Jiménez (ESP) 71 72
144 - Robert Karlsson(SWE) 74 70, Garth Mulroy 71 73
145 - Simon Dyson (ENG) 75 70, Colin Montgomerie (SCO) 70 75, Matthew Zions (AUS) 70 75
146 - S S P Chowrasia (IND) 75 71, Gonzalo Fdez-Castano (ESP) 74 72
147 - Kenneth Ferrie (ENG) 71 76
148 - Pablo Larrazabal (ESP) 74 74
149 - Oliver Fisher (ENG) 77 72, Matteo Manassero (ITA) 76 73, Pablo Martin (ESP) 76 73
150 - Michael Hoey (NIR) 78 72
154 - Thomas Levet (FRA) 81 73