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Ken Borland

Still a great divide between Grace & the chasing pack at Leopard Creek

Posted on February 11, 2015 by Ken

Branden Grace ensured that there was still a great divide between him and the chasing pack as his 66 in the second round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek left him with a five-stroke lead on Friday.

Even though experienced Francesco Molinari, one of the most consistent golfers on the European Tour, climbed rapidly up the leaderboard with a superb seven-under-par 65, Grace built on his phenomenal opening-day 62 and ended the second round on 16-under-par, with the Italian second on 11-under.

Molinari ensured that there is at least still a window of opportunity for Grace to be challenged over the weekend, with Tjaart van der Walt (-10), Shaun Norris, Danny Willett and Lucas Bjerregaard (all on -9) also not a million miles away.

It would have been well-nigh impossible for Grace to raise the bar on his first-round performance, but he still played wonderful golf as he smashed the record for the lowest 36-hole score at this tournament, his 128 improving on the 131 shot by Pablo Martin in 2009 and by Charl Schwartzel and Gregory Bourdy in 2012.

“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.

While comfortable with leading from the front – his last win was wire-to-wire at the Alfred Dunhill Links at St Andrew’s in 2012 – Grace warned that there were still plenty of realistic challengers milling around below him on the leaderboard.

“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.

While Grace is a clear favourite to become the fifth South African winner at Leopard Creek, Molinari is a top-class golfer, having previously been as high as 14th on the world rankings and twice a Ryder Cup winner (2010, 2012), and the 32-year-old took a pragmatic view of his prospects.

“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. “Golf is a strange sport, you do all the right things but you often don’t get the dividends right away. So I work every day of my life, keep trying to improve and just do my best,” Molinari said.

Van der Walt’s 67 was also a marvellous round, marred only by a bogey at the par-four ninth, his closing hole, his putter being the source of much success as he collected six birdies.

“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. Yesterday and today a couple went in, which kept the momentum going. I’m putting well and if I can get the ball-striking to kick in a bit more then anything can happen at the weekend,” Van der Walt said.

It will obviously take something special, however, to catch Grace, who is playing with the assurance of someone who is enjoying his golf again and feels that he is back to his best.

“I’ve just started enjoying my golf again, I’m playing like in 2012, nice and steady, but it’s going to be two more long days and I just need to push on,” Grace said.

The presence of the in-form Willett in a tie for third place after a 69 that included a double-bogey at the par-three seventh, will no doubt sharpen the mind of Grace.

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