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Ken Borland

Woods chasing records while Grace & Coetzee make debuts 0

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Ken


While the revitalised Tiger Woods is favoured to close to within three of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major titles when the Masters gets underway this evening, Branden Grace and George Coetzee will make their debuts at Augusta, lifting South Africa’s representation in one of golf’s most hallowed events to an all-time high of eight.

The pair will join compatriots Tim Clark, Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and Trevor Immelman in an event that has seen five South African triumphs – Gary Player in 1961, 74 and 78; Immelman in 2008 and Schwartzel in 2011.

The last player to win on his Masters debut was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and, although Oosthuizen was edged into second by Bubba Watson in a playoff last year and Els is the reigning British Open champion, the spotlight has been elsewhere.

Woods, who has risen like the phoenix back to number one in the world, is the clear favourite, bringing both great form – three wins in his last five starts – and tremendous pedigree, having four previous Masters titles, to the tournament.

Even Nicklaus backs Woods to kick-start his quest for 19 major titles again.

“If Tiger doesn’t figure it out here, after the spring he’s had, then I don’t know. I’ve said, and I continue to say it, that I still expect him to break my record. I think he’s just too talented, too driven and too focused on that. From this point, he’s got to win five majors, which is a pretty good career for most people to start at age 37. But I still think he’s going to do it, he’s in contention every year,” Nicklaus said.

The other contenders are Rory McIlroy, who returned to form with a second-place finish in last weekend’s Texas Open, three-time champion Phil Mickelson and, if you believe the British press, perennial favourite Ian Poulter, even though the Ryder Cup star is battling allergies as practically everything is blooming at Augusta at the moment.

This year’s Masters will also see the emergence of a stunning new talent who could not only be the successor to Woods but also the precursor to the Chinese dominance of the game many have predicted.

The 14-year-old Guan Tianlang will smash Matteo Mannesero’s record of being the youngest golfer to play in the Masters by two years and the youngster has impressed all and sundry in the build-up to the Major.

The son of a keen seven-handicap golfer, who knew his boy was something special when he beat him aged seven, Guan qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships in November.

Woods and two-time champion Tom Watson were among the legends he played practice rounds with, and both came away with the impression they were in the presence of future greatness.

“I enjoyed playing with Guan, he has good tempo, his rhythm is very good. Once he grows a little bit, he will be able to get the club faster. He will use a different swing plane when he gets taller and stronger,” Watson said.

“He’s so consistent,” said Woods. “He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes yesterday, hitting them spot-on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing, he knew the spots he had to land the ball and to be able to pull it off. Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution.”

The importance of course knowledge is magnified at Augusta, where the slopes on the fairways and greens are far steeper than the television coverage portrays. It really is the thinking man’s golf course.

“There isn’t a single hole out there that can’t be birdied if you just think, but there isn’t one that can’t be double-bogeyed if you ever stop thinking,” was the famous quote of Bobby Jones, the Masters co-founder and winner of seven Majors as an amateur.

The veteran Els gave the rookie Grace some words of advice before the tournament and he used the Jones quote.

“Overall I’d say it’s a tough golf course to learn in a hurry. I’m sure this will be the first of many visits to Augusta in your [Grace’s] career, so try to enjoy it and soak it all up. There are certain ‘crunch shots’ at Augusta where the tariff is very high and from one to 18 there is no other course where the margins between a birdie and a bogey are so small. You have to commit to your shots and be aggressive to your spots, even if that’s 25-feet right of the pin.

“You’ll know already that the slopes are more severe than they appear on television, so you hit a lot of iron shots from sloping lies and you’ve got the big elevation changes coming into some of those greens. The wind can switch around, especially in Amen Corner.

“The short game is the biggest thing at Augusta, though. The grass around the greens is mowed very tight and against the direction of play, so you have to be very precise with your strike. Obviously the speed and the slope of the greens get your attention, as well. Other than that, it’s really pretty straightforward!”

In Grace’s case, his short game, especially his lob-wedge, is impressive, but what is also relevant is that he is comfortable playing a high draw, which Augusta favours.

Apart from the advice from Els, Grace has also played a practice round with no less of an authority on Augusta than Player.

“I’m hitting the ball like I did in January again and I’m ready. Excitement will take care of the rest. It’s an experience I’ve never had before, Augusta and the Green Jacket is the most special of them all because of the history and South Africans having done well in the Masters in the past.

“I’ve been given some great insights in the practice rounds and everyone has just tried to help George and I as much as possible. Obviously I was disappointed to miss the cut in my last Major, but there was a little bit of extra pressure then because I had come in from nowhere really.

“Now I’m not worried that I have to go out and play well, I’m not worried about what people think because I’m number 32 in the world and I can just go out and enjoy myself. I’m in a good place,” Grace said.

Whatever the result, many would say he is in the best place of all for a golfer: beautiful Augusta in the springtime.

Grace surges to victory with addictive blend of power & precision 0

Posted on February 18, 2015 by Ken

Branden Grace produced an addictive blend of power off the tee and precise, risk-free golf as he surged to a seven-stroke victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek in Malelane on Sunday.

Grace has now led a European Tour event going into the final round on five occasions and has won every time; whatever it is that courses through his veins in those pressure situations, the sports medicine industry would no doubt love to turn it into a drug.

Without detracting from the quality of golf he produced on Sunday in shooting a four-under-par 68, Grace’s task was made easier by his nearest challengers, Lucas Bjerregaard and Danny Willett, both playing the back nine as if they were in a stupor, plummeting down the leaderboard.

Grace dared to take driver off the tee on a course that has plenty of punishing bush to catch the offline shot.

“I was great off the tee, on a course where you really need to be. I felt so comfortable with my driver and the par-fives were the big turnaround today, I played them in one-over yesterday [Saturday], but today I was four-under,” Grace said.

The 26-year-old started well with birdies at the second and fourth holes and even though he bogeyed the par-three seventh after finding the matted grass left of the green, he was out in 34 and was two ahead of Willett.

Bjerregaard had been knocked to the canvas by a triple-bogey six at the seventh. His tee shot was even further left than Grace’s, in thicker grass, but his chip looked like a good one. Unfortunately for the Dane, it just kept rolling on the hard and fast green, past the hole and into the water.

He was probably still upset about his bad luck when he bogeyed the eighth, but then everything fell apart on the back nine as Bjerregaard came home in an astonishing 50 comprising five bogeys, two double-bogeys and a quadruple-bogey on the par-four 11th. His final round of 89 is surely the worst by a player in the leading group on the last day of a tournament.

Willett was two-under for his round through 15 holes, but his cheeky smile turned into a scowl on 16 when his tee-shot was short of the green and in the water on the par-three. He then bogeyed 17 and was thoroughly disheartened by the time he carded an eight on the 18th to finish in a tie for fourth on 10-under after a 76.

Their ham-fisted efforts at catching him brought some sympathy from Grace.

“This course does that to you, as soon as you start to push it bites you. Lucas was a bit unlucky on the seventh and after that nothing went his way. But to win so convincingly is nice, it’s a great start to the new season after a hard year,” Grace said.

Just to add to the local flavour of celebration, Louis Oosthuizen shot a fine three-under-par 69 and climbed into second place on 13-under and was waiting to spray his good friend Grace with champagne on the 18th green.

It was a win to savour for Grace, beating a quality field and returning to the European Tour’s winners’ circle after two years.

“It’s something special being the first player to win wire-to-wire here because this is one of the tournaments every South African golfer wants to win, especially because of what Mr and Mrs Rupert do for golf. My game was spot-on today, there weren’t a lot of misses, maybe two bad shots all day,” Grace said.

Englishman Andrew Johnston, who finished on top of the Challenge Tour rankings, shot a one-over-par 73 on Sunday, but it was enough for him to jump up to third, while South African Trevor Fisher Jnr was on fire on the back nine, carding five birdies to finish with a 69 and tied with Willett in fourth place.

Wire-to-wire Leopard Creek win ‘something special’ for Grace 0

Posted on February 18, 2015 by Ken

Branden Grace described it as “something special” as he became the first golfer to win the Alfred Dunhill Championship wire-to-wire when he cruised to a seven-stroke victory at Leopard Creek on Sunday.

The 26-year-old is a tremendous front-runner, all four of his previous European Tour wins coming after he led going into the final round, and Sunday was no exception as he produced an exceptionally solid 68, with just two bogeys, to finish on 20-under-par.

Fellow South African and close friend Louis Oosthuizen was the runner-up, shooting 69 on Sunday to finish on 13-under, while Grace’s nearest challengers, Lucas Bjerregaard and Danny Willett, endured horrible final rounds that saw them plummet down the leaderboard.

“It’s something special going wire-to-wire because this is one of the tournaments every South African golfer wants to win, especially because of what Mr and Mrs Rupert do for golf,” Grace said.

The Fancourt-based golfer made it look easy as he was superb off the tee, accurate with his irons and solid with the putter, collecting six birdies, four of them on the par-fives.

“The par-fives were the big turnaround today, I played them in one-over yesterday [Saturday], but today I was four-under. The other big thing was that I was great off the tee, on a course where you really need to be. I felt so comfortable with my driver,” Grace said.

It was a day of immense trauma for Bjerregaard, the Dane starting the day with high hopes, just one shot behind Grace. He was level-par after birdieing the sixth hole, but then the wheels fell off after a triple-bogey six at the seventh.

His drive was far left into long grass but his chip seemed to be a good one; unfortunately it just kept rolling on the hard and fast green, past the hole and into the water.

Bjerregaard bogeyed eight and was out in 39, but then the horror show really began: double-bogey at 10, quadruple-bogey at 11 and another dropped shot at 12. He came in with a double-bogey at 15 and four other bogeys – an astonishing 50 for the back nine and a round of 89 that dropped him to two-over-par and a tie for 49th.

Willett looked to be gearing himself up for a charge with back-to-back birdies around the turn and on 13 and 14, but a rare mis-hit iron shot on 16 found the water and led to a double-bogey. That was followed by a bogey at 17 and a demoralised Willett then bombed out with a triple-bogey eight on the last, to finish in a tie for fourth with Trevor Fisher Jnr, who carded a fine 69 on Sunday.

Andrew Johnston shot a one-over-par 73, but it was good enough for the Englishman to hang on to third place on 11-under.

It was a top-class display, however, by Grace. Having wowed the tartan brigade at St Andrew’s with his wire-to-wire win in the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2012, he now reminded the Lowvelders clad in shades of khaki of his pedigree.

He has spoken all week of feeling near to his best again – 2012 when he claimed all four of his European Tour triumphs – and that makes him one of South Africa’s best golfers.

“It’s a great start to the new season after a hard year. My game was spot-on today, there weren’t a lot of misses, maybe two bad shots all day. To win so convincingly is really nice,” Grace said.



Big fat triple bogey knocks Bjerregaard out of contention 0

Posted on February 17, 2015 by Ken

A big fat triple-bogey at the par-three seventh hole knocked Lucas Bjerregaard out of serious contention as Branden Grace went into the back nine in the final round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek with a two-stroke lead over Danny Willett.

Bjerregaard started the final round just one stroke behind Grace, but had slipped three back by the time they reached the seventh after a bogey on the first and a birdie on the sixth, to which the South African replied with birdies on the second and fourth holes.

Bjerregaard sent his tee-shot way left into thick grass and, although he didn’t seem to catch his chip fat or anything, the ball just kept rolling on the hard and fast greens, past the hole and down the shaved bank into the water.

The resulting triple-bogey sent the Dane tumbling to 12-under and bemoaning his bad luck.

Willett bogeyed the seventh, his second dropped shot after a six on the par-five second, but he was soon sporting a cheesy grin again as he grabbed back-to-back birdies around the turn to close to within two shots of Grace.

Last week’s Sun City champion produced some top-class iron play and set up the fascinating prospect of a thrilling back-nine duel with Grace for the title.

Grace also dropped a shot on the seventh after also missing the green left but he saved par on the par-three fifth with a fine up-and-down from the bunker.

Fellow South African Louis Oosthuizen was mounting a late mini-charge as he birdied the 10th and 11th holes, having also picked up a shot on the seventh, to go to 12-under-par, in third place but five behind Grace.

The rest of the field is spread out far below Grace, with Francesco Molinari three over for the day and seven behind, Andrew Johnston two-over in the final round and the unfortunate Bjerregaard four-over-par at the turn.

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