Branden Grace made it two European Tour victories in as many weeks by winning the Volvo Golf Champions over The Links at Fancourt after a playoff against fellow South Africans Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.
Grace, who only earned a spot in the field in this event following his win in last week’s Joburg Open, birdied the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to beat two of his childhood heroes and to take a commanding lead at the head of the 2012 Race to Dubai.
Only 10 days ago, Grace was ranked outside the top 250 on the Official World Golf Ranking, he’s now moved inside the top 100.
“I’m really ecstatic, it’s a dream come true,” said Grace.
The 23-year-old earned his playing privileges for the 2012 season through Qualifying School and he has now pocketed €570,000 in his first three starts of the year.
Grace began the final round tied for the lead with Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium but the South African put himself in trouble with a double bogey at the third then a bogey at the fourth. But the youngster knuckled down and played the final 14 holes in five-under-par to climb back to the top of the leaderboard.
Ernie Els posted an early clubhouse total of 12-under-par after an excellent closing round of 67. That number was later matched by Retief Goosen who two-putted the final green for a birdie four.
As Colsaerts and Grace came to the 18th hole they were both also on 12-under, so both had a chance to win the tournament outright with a birdie.
Grace fired his drive long and straight while the Belgian found trouble to the left of the fairway. He was forced to hack out down the first leaving a long, blind third shot into the green. He made a good fist of it but narrowly missed the green to the right.
Grace played up just short of the putting surface then hit a delicate chip that ended some five feet beyond the cup.
Colsaerts pitched on from the right and left a putt of a similar length for par. So Grace had a short putt to win the tournament. He took his time and brushed it towards the hole, but the ball dived left before the cup and narrowly missed. He tapped in for a par to finish on 12-under. Colsaerts had a putt to make it a four-way tie after 72 holes but he pushed it past the right edge and had to settle for fourth place.
The trio of South Africans still in the running headed back to the 18th tee. Grace and then Goosen found the fairway with their drives but Els pulled his slightly into thick rough. Goose fired his second short right of the green before Els hacked out back to the fairway. Grace found the green with his second then Els played an excellent third shot that ended some 15 feet beyond the flag.
Goosen played a weak pitch that came up short before Grace rolled his approach putt to within two feet of the hole. That effectively meant Goosen and Els had to hole their putts to stay in the running. Neither managed and Grace was left with a tap-in to claim a memorable victory.
Volvo Golf Champions
The Links at Fancourt, George, South Africa
Jan 19-22, purse €2,000,000, par 73
1 Branden Grace (RSA) 68 66 75 71 280 €350,000
T2 Ernie Els (RSA) 71 71 71 67 280 €177,500
T2 Retief Goosen (RSA) 72 68 70 70 280 €177,500
4 Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel) 64 76 69 72 281 €110,000
5 Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 75 67 68 72 282 €93,000
6 Jose Maria Olazabal (Esp) 71 68 72 73 284 €80,000
T7 Raphael Jacquelin (Fra) 71 69 77 69 286 €65,000
T7 Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 69 71 72 74 286 €65,000
9 Thomas Aiken (RSA) 68 70 77 72 287 €53,000
T10 Paul Lawrie (Sco) 72 68 74 74 288 €47,050
T10 Padraig Harrington (Ire) 69 73 70 76 288 €47,050
Note: Player score in bold signifies Titleist ball usage
PGA Tour – Mark Wilson wins Humana Challenge