GEORGE, SOUTH AFRICA | Branden Grace, who
won the previous week’s Joburg Open, got the
better of two of his great heroes – Ernie Els and
Retief Goosen – in a three-way playoff at the
Volvo Golf Champions at Fancourt on Sunday.
Els drove into the wilderness at the first ex-
tra hole, the 549-yard 18th; Goosen mis-hit his
short approach; and the local lad Grace thrilled
a host of well wishers by putting to four feet to
pave the way for a winning birdie.
“It’s awesome knowing that I’ve beaten two
of my idols,” said Grace, who had never won
before this year.
Old school friends from Otenique High
School, some of whom he had not seen in years,
trekked round this lengthy links and he revelled
in their arrival. “It put a smile on my face every
time I saw one of them,” he admitted.
The 23-year-old had the chance to tie up
the title at the 72nd, only to misread the four-
footer he needed for the 70, which would have
taken him to 13 under. Far
from getting down about
it, he reminded himself,
“There’s another hole wait-
ing.” Then, in spite of the
august company he was
keeping, he felt this
“amazing calm” as
he prepared to hit
first in the playoff.
Ranked 258 in
the world a fort-
night ago, Grace
is now comfort-
ably inside the
top 100 and wondering if he might carry on in
this vein and make The Masters.
The South Africans had admitted at the start
of the week that they had the advantage – this is
their summer and they were nicely warmed up,
whereas most of the visitors were coming off a
winter break. Some put themselves at a further
disadvantage by arriving with new-season shoes
and, as their feet swelled in temperatures of 90
degrees-plus, so the medical team found themselves treating a steady stream of blisters. Jose
Maria Olazabal, who finished sixth on 284 to the
leaders’ 280, was among the victims.
Blisters, though, were small beer to someone who has suffered on and off over the last
15 years with a species of polyarthritis. At one
point, prior to his win in the 1999 Masters, the
2012 Ryder Cup captain had wondered if he
would ever walk again, let alone play golf. Not
since 2006 when he finished seventh in the
Volvo Masters at Valderrama, had he collected
a cheque in the same league as the £80,000 he
Small wonder he was so
elated: “I was only weak off
the tee. The rest of my game
is pretty good and, yes, I was
proud of myself. It may have
been a small field but there
were plenty of top players.”
Even if he had won, it would
not have changed his mind about the
Ryder Cup. He has – and never has had –
any intention of being a playing captain.
Branden Grace picked
up back-to-back wins
in South Africa.