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Ken Borland


Grace plays with aplomb to stretch his lead

Posted on February 09, 2015 by Ken

It’s no laughing matter trying to follow up a 62 in the first round of a prestigious tournament like the Alfred Dunhill Championship, but Branden Grace played with great aplomb once again at Leopard Creek as he stretched his lead with a 66 on Friday.

That gave the 26-year-old a commanding five-stroke lead at the halfway mark of the European Tour co-sanctioned event and Grace said he was entirely comfortable leading from the front as he goes in search of his fifth European Tour title and his first since 2012 in the Alfred Dunhill Links at St Andrew’s.

“I’m very chuffed, it was a very good round. It’s always hard after a round like yesterday [Thursday], it’s so easy to come out and try and protect your score, but I didn’t do that, I was out the blocks quickly with birdies on 11 and 13 and I just kept the ball rolling very well,” Grace said after his round, which he began on the 10th hole.

“I have a good history when I’m leading, at the Alfred Dunhill I was quite a few ahead after two days, so I’ve done it before. I’m just going to stick to what I’m doing and stay patient. On this course, a 10-under could happen again and guys will come at you,” Grace said.

One man who was not cowed by Grace’s phenomenal start was experienced Italian Francesco Molinari, who started the second round six behind the South African but kept himself in contention with a superb seven-under-par 65 to climb to second on 11-under.

“I tried not to think about his big lead and just do my best, and it worked out very well. Five shots is obviously still a very good margin, but the greens are firming up nicely and it might be different on the weekend,” Molinari said with all the calmness that comes from a successful career that has seen him rise as high as number 14 in the world rankings and appear in two triumphant Ryder Cup campaigns for Europe.

South African Tjaart van der Walt was another to roar up the leaderboard with a five-under-par 67 taking him to 10-under overall and third place, while compatriot Shaun Norris and Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard both cruised to 67s as well and were tied for fourth on nine-under with Danny Willett.

Last weekend’s Sun City winner started on the easier back nine and battled to get going, playing the first eight holes in level-par. But Willett was much happier around the turn, eagling 18 after hitting a six-iron to six feet and then picking up birdies on the second, fifth and ninth holes.

Van der Walt started on the 10th tee and, having to hit a long-iron into the green he left himself 25 feet from the hole. But he made the putt with little fuss and that set the tone for a fine day on the greens as he collected five more birdies before eventually dropping a shot on the ninth, his last hole.

“The first hole was a swinging right-to-lefter and I made it, so I felt good from the first hole onwards. You’ve always got to fancy your chances and I was just happy to get out there and get a few numbers on the board early on. I played well. Leopard Creek is a long golf course for me, so I’m not going in with short-irons like some of the other guys, but when I got it on the greens I rolled the putts well, a couple went in, which kept the momentum going,” Van der Walt said.

Grace, however, continues to make hay while the sun shines and it would take something remarkable for him to be denied victory.

 

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