January 24, 2012 by
South Africa’s Branden Grace beat compatriots Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a playoff, after they had all finished on 12-under-par, to claim the Volvo World Champions title at the Fancourt Links on Sunday.
Grace birdied the 18th hole in a sudden-death playoff to claim back-to-back European Tour titles, beating Els and Goosen by one stroke after they could just par the par-five closing hole.
The 23-year-old Grace must have thought he had the win wrapped up in regulation play as he stood over a four-foot putt for birdie on the 502-metre 18th, but he shovelled the short putt horribly wide to force him into a playoff with his two seasoned compatriots.
Els’s tee shot on the sudden death hole was down the left and ran through the fairway into the rough, meaning he was always under pressure in the playoff. The three-time major champion hacked out on to the fairway and then hit a superb long-iron third shot that ended 15 feet from the hole. Els’s birdie putt was just wide.
Goosen hit his drive down the middle of the fairway and his second on to a bank just right of the green, but his hopes were ended by an awful chip that finished 25 feet short of the flag.
Grace hit a rescue-wood from the fairway on to the green and an excellent first putt ensured that he had another little four-footer for the win.
Nicolas Colsaerts earlier had a three-foot putt for par on the 72nd hole of regulation play for a place in the playoff, but the Belgian rushed it past the hole.
The victory was the second in two weeks for Grace, last week’s Joburg Open champion, who became just the sixth golfer after Graham Marsh (1972), Jack Newton (1972), Charles Coody (1973), Baldovino Dassu (1976) and Fred Couples (1995) to win their first two European Tour events in back-to-back tournaments.
Grace began the day tied for the lead with Colsaerts on 10-under-par and made up for a poor start in which he double-bogeyed the third and bogeyed the fourth, with birdies on the sixth, ninth, 12th, 13th and 16th holes.
“I really wanted to do well and perform on a course so close to home, it’s a dream come true and unbelievable to win a tournament of this calibre,” Grace, who is based at nearby George Golf Club, said.
“I was lying in bed last night reading the articles about the tournament and I saw there were 14 majors behind me. I just had to stick to my routines and I had a calm about me for the whole playoff.
“It was awesome to beat two of my idols in the playoff and I felt really comfortable on that tee-shot on 18 the whole week. I’m just running on emotion and I’m going to keep going until I’m exhausted,” Grace said.
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel also challenged strongly for the lead but wayward tee shots led to bogeys on the par-three 11th and 17th holes, and a poor approach into the water follwed by a duffed chip caused a double-bogey on the 12th. Despite a run of eagle-birdie-birdie from the 13th to the 15th holes, those dropped shots proved crucial for Schwartzel.
Goosen, who had also eagled the par-five 13th hole, birdied the last two holes to make the playoff.
Els, who had begun the day four shots behind Grace and Colsaerts, fired a six-under-par 67 – the best round of the day – to catch up and birdied the 18th thanks to a brilliant third shot that curled down the final green’s steep slope and finished a couple of feet from the hole. The 42-year-old was unable to do it again in the playoff, however.
European Ryder Cup captain Jose’-Maria Olazabal completed an impressive week with a level-par 73 that left him in sixth place on eight-under-par, while former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen bombed out of contention after a quadruple-bogey eight at the 14th hole. He eventually finished on six-under-par in a tie for seventh with Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin.