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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 now feels at home on golf’s greatest stage 0

Posted on November 19, 2014 by Ken

BRANDEN Grace’s Masters debut at Augusta next week will be his fifth appearance in a Major championship, but what is different this time around is that the 24-year-old really feels he belongs on golf’s greatest stage.

In a whirlwind rise to fame, Grace played in the three other Majors last year, finishing in a tie for 51st place at the US Open and tied 77th at the British Open, for which he had previously qualified in 2009, finishing tied 43rd. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship.

Grace began 2012 ranked No265 in the world, but successive wins at the Joburg Open and the Volvo Golf Champions lifted him into the top 100, and victory in the China Open in mid-April ensured his ranking was high enough to make the rest of the Majors that year.

But his ascension was so rapid, Grace felt a little like an outsider needing to prove himself.

This year, having been comfortably ensconced inside the top 40 since his victory last October in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, he feels right at home.

“Obviously I’ve changed a lot, last year made me a better player and person, just in the way I handle myself: even when things aren’t going great, I can find a way to make it happen. Obviously I was disappointed with the last Major and missing the cut, but there was always that little bit of extra pressure last year.

“This year I don’t have to worry, I’m No32 in the world, I can just go out and enjoy myself. I don’t have to worry and think I have to play well, I don’t need to worry about what people think. I’m in a good place,” Grace told BDlive in a teleconference on Tuesday.

Grace is one of eight South Africans in the prestigious Augusta field, joining Tim Clark, George Coetzee, Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and Trevor Immelman, and may yet make an even bigger name for himself at America’s most hallowed course.

“The other South Africans are just as excited as me and they think Augusta could suit me because I hit the ball pretty straight, I can shape it a bit and my lob-wedge is good too. I just need to get sharper on my putting so that I don’t worry about the little five- or six-footers you get,” Grace said.

The 2012 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner will be going into the Masters after successive missed cuts at the Houston Open and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but he feels his game is quickly regaining the same levels as in January, when he claimed three top-10 finishes.

“It’s getting back there, even though the last couple of weeks didn’t go to plan. But I’ve made good progress although the scores don’t show that. I’m hitting the ball like I did in January and by Sunday I’ll be ready and then the excitement will hopefully take care of the rest.”

Langer says long putters ‘part of the game’ 0

Posted on January 07, 2013 by Ken

Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer on Thursday made an impassioned defence of long putters, saying they were part of the “progression of the game”.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) and the United States Golf Association (USGA), the sport’s two leading rulemakers, on Wednesday announced a proposal for a ban on long putters being anchored to the body.

Langer, who suffered from career-threatening putting “yips” in the late 1980s and reverted to a belly putter in 1997, said he was opposed to the decision which could ban the practice of long putters being anchored to the player’s chest, stomach or chin by 2016.

“I am disappointed and I do not understand why they are banning it now after 35 years. If there is anything illegal about it, why did they not stop it right away?

“If you are talking about the history of the game and that long putters are not part of the history of the game, what about big metal drivers, two-piece balls or hybrids? Let’s face it, it is a progression of the game,” Langer said at Sun City on Thursday, where he was leading the Champions Challenge, the seniors’ portion of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

Bill Haas, the American who is the co-leader of the Nedbank Golf Challenge after the first round, has used a belly-putter in the past and he believes the rule disallowing anchoring is fair.

“I had a lot of success with a belly putter last year, but then I became worse with it for a while. I don’t think it makes putting much easier, but it may be the wrong way to play the game. You should be putting with your hands and the putter should not be anchored. There’s a way to putt, but if people want to use a long putter, they should use them. I’m happy with my short putter now, it makes it more fun,” Haas said.

Langer pointed out that, although three of the last five major champions have used long putters, the game’s rulemakers have done nothing to halt the influence of technology in other areas, particularly drivers.

“They have never banned drivers, that is what they should be doing. Are these big metal drivers part of the history of the game, balls going for hundreds of yards?”, the former world number one said.

The rulemakers are apparently concerned that it is not just older golfers turning to the longer putters as a last resort to cure the yips, but younger players who are now taking advantage of the anchoring method. Fourteen-year-old Chinese golfer Guan Tianlang used a belly putter in his recent victory at the Asia Pacific Amateur and earned himself a place at next year’s Masters in the process.

Sweden’s Carl Pettersson uses a broomstick putter and is also in the Sun City field, but he declined to attend a press conference when it became clear he was going to be asked about the proposed new ruling.

Haas said despite the threatened outlawing of the practice, he did not see it as cheating and, apart from Pettersson, he mentioned a duo of recent major winners in Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson who use the long putter.

“I’ve heard Webb talking and he says that stats show that the top putters don’t use belly putters,” Haas said.

The proposal will undoubtedly give birth to heated debate over the next couple of years, with the rules only being changed after a long period of consultation.

Grace wants to crack the top 50 0

Posted on January 24, 2012 by Ken

by Ken Borland 22 January 2012, 19:23


Branden Grace wants to crack the world’s top 50 and make it to the Masters following his extraordinary second consecutive European Tour title after his victory at the Volvo Golf Champions at the Fancourt Links on Sunday.

“One of my goals is definitely to make the top 50. I just need to keep grinding on and to get to the Masters would be indescribable,” Grace said after his dramatic playoff victory.

Grace prevailed over his fellow South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen and the 23-year-old said beating them had made his victory even sweeter.

“Lying in bed last night, I was reading articles about the tournament and I saw that there were 14 major wins behind me. It was unbelievable to win a tournament of this calibre and to beat two of my idols in a playoff is awesome,” Grace said.

It was an awful missed putt on the 72nd hole of regulation play that ensured Grace would have to join them in a playoff after his par on the 18th hole left the trio tied on 12-under-par. Grace shovelled a four-foot putt wide of the hole and his misfortune was repeated by Nicolas Colsaerts, who smashed a three-foot putt past the hole moments later to drop out of contention.

“If you make that sort of putt, you’re the hero, but when I missed it, I didn’t think I’d hit a bad putt, it was just a bit low on speed. It’s just one of those things, I didn’t really think of it being on the last hole because I knew we had one left,” Grace said.

The George Golf Club representative has always featured highly in the opinions of respected South African golf judges and finally seems to be fulfilling his undoubted potential. Grace celebrated his 50th European Tour start with his maiden victory at last week’s Joburg Open and became just the sixth golfer to win their first two events back-to-back.

“I would’ve preferred to have won much earlier in my career but I’ve learnt the hard way. I’ve been on tour, I’ve lost my card but sometimes it’s not bad going backwards to go forwards. I’ve learnt my lesson and I know for a fact that I’m a better player than before,” Grace said.

An analysis of Grace’s final round 71 shows that he hit 12 out of 14 fairways and made 14 out of 18 greens in regulation and it was clear he has an affinity for the Fancourt Links.

“I really wanted to do well and perform here at home, so it’s a dream come true. It’s unbelievable to win a tournament of this calibre,” Grace said.

“Amazing” and “phenomenal” were the other words Grace used to describe his double triumph and he is the fifth South African to win back-to-back European Tour titles. Dale Hayes was the first to do it when he won the Italian and French Opens in 1978, before Els claimed the Dubai Desert Classic and Qatar Masters titles in 2005. The other two instances have been during the Sunshine Tour’s co-sanctioned summer swing, with Richard Sterne winning the Alfred Dunhill Championship and South African Open in 2009 and Charl Schwartzel triumphing in the 2010 Africa and Joburg Opens.

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