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Ken Borland

Grace laughs off ‘iffy round’ as chasing pack catch him 0

Posted on February 16, 2015 by Ken

Alfred Dunhill Championship leader Branden Grace could only post a level-par 72 on Saturday as the chasing pack all but caught him at Leopard Creek, but the South African laughed it off as an “iffy round”.

Grace was five shots ahead after rounds of 62 and 66, but while Saturday’s third round was a struggle for him, it was a joyous breeze for golfers like Lucas Bjerregaard and the in-form Danny Willett.

Bjerregaard started the third round seven shots off the pace but is now in a fine position to continue the recent success of Danish golfers in South Africa, firing a marvellous six-under-par 66 to finish on 15-under, just one stroke behind Grace.

Willett also had an outstanding round, with three birdies on the front nine and four on the back, his only blemish being a double-bogey six on the ninth, as he leapt into third place on 14-under.

Francesco Molinari, in second place overnight, was two under through 10 holes, but he was cowed by the back nine, unable to pick up another shot and was overtaken by Bjerregaard and Willett.

The highlight of the day was Bjerregaard’s roaring finish, the 23-year-old coming in with three successive birdies, following an eagle on the famous par-five 13th.

“It’s a great position to be in and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow. After seven or eight holes it definitely didn’t look like I was going to be in this position, so it was nice to turn things around and play a really solid back nine,” Bjerregaard said.

Grace, in contrast, bogeyed the 17th and had to save par on the 18th to limp home, but he was still in good spirits at the end of a tough day. Overcast conditions meant the usual blistering Lowveld heat was absent, but the golfers had to contend with the wind picking up and the ball not travelling as far in the cooler temperatures.

“It was a tough day, but I didn’t play too badly, I wouldn’t call it a bad round. It’s not as if I’m going to the range to try and find something, there’s not much I need to work on. I’ll take the positives into the final round, I’m still ahead and I’ll come with a positive frame of mind tomorrow [Sunday].

“I’m still hitting the ball well, I just need to make better decisions. You always expect one iffy round in a tournament and if that was it then I’m alright with it,” Grace said after an up-and-down round with four bogeys and four birdies.

Bjerregaard actually started his round with a bogey to immediately fall eight shots behind the leader, but there was little fuss from the tall, muscular golfer as he went out in 35 with two birdies and one more dropped shot, before catching fire on the back nine. Blessed with a hot putter, he made hay while the sun didn’t shine.

“I putted really well. Made good ones on 16 and 17, both were about six metres. I didn’t make any really long ones, but I made some good par putts on the front nine, a couple of six-footers to make par and keep things going,” he said.

The strangely cool weather looks set to give way to a typical scorcher in Malelane on Sunday and, while Grace has led wire-to-wire thus far, the threat is writ large from several golfers below him.

Even the little-known Englishman Andrew Johnston is in the mix after he eagled the 18th to complete a 68 that put him on 12-under.

Louis Oosthuizen also eagled the last hole after a magnificent seven-iron to five feet and he is also not out of the running on 10-under-par after a 68.

Still a great divide between Grace & the chasing pack at Leopard Creek 0

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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