Grace recreates Open heroics to win at Sun City
South African Branden Grace claimed a narrow home win at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, but Tommy Fleetwood remains in pole position to be named Europe’s number one player.
Not for the first time this year, Branden Grace caught fire and stole the headlines with a birdie spree. The South African wrote himself into golf’s history books at The Open back in July, carding the first ever 62 in major championship history with a scintillating third round at Royal Birkdale. And Grace, 29, was at his very best again on Sunday to shoot a closing six-under 66 to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge by one shot from Scotland’s Scott Jamieson, finishing on 10-under par at Sun City.
It was an eighth European Tour victory for Grace, but it will have meant as much as any of the others as he became the tournament’s first South African winner in a decade. Former Masters champion Trevor Immelman was the last man to notch a home win in Sun City back in 2007, however Grace did not have it all his own way – he, Jamieson, and France's Victor Dubuisson were all tied at ten-under par after 14 holes. But a monster 40-foot birdie putt on the 16th turned the tide Grace’s way, as he finished off a flawless bogey-free round in which he hit all 18 greens in regulation.
The Open Champions
Legend of the game Gary Player, who claimed the Claret Jug in 1959, 1968, and 1974, was host for the week but a couple of other former champions were also present in a playing capacity. Louis Oosthuizen – Champion Golfer of the Year in 2010 – was one of three South Africans inside the top ten, delighting the home crowds by finishing on four-under par. Two rounds of 70 over the weekend was enough for the world number 23 to finish in a tie for eighth alongside the in-form Matthew Fitzpatrick. Two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington was also in action, finishing T-42nd on four-over par after a frustrating final-round 75.
Best of the rest
Grace’s 66 propelled him to the top of the leaderboard, but it was not the low round on Sunday – that honour went to China’s Li Haotong. The 22-year-old starlet also shot the lowest final round at The Open earlier this year at Royal Birkdale, and fired an eight-under par 64 to shoot up the standings into fourth place. It was a star-studded leaderboard for the penultimate event of the European Tour season, with former US Open and PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer in fifth, Lee Westwood in the tie for sixth, and Fleetwood scraping into the top ten after a 71 on Sunday.
Tyrrell Hatton – winner of the Dunhill Links Championship at 2018 Open venue Carnoustie earlier this year – was in an eight-way tie for 19th, as was Ian Poulter, who made it to the Tour’s finale in Dubai by the skin of his teeth in the process.
Three’s a crowd for Dubai title
Fleetwood, who just a matter of weeks ago broke the course record at Carnoustie, heads into the final event of the European season knowing only two men can deny him the Tour crown.
The 26-year-old’s advantage stretched to 256,737 points ahead of second-placed Justin Rose – who sat out this weekend’s action – with Masters champion Sergio Garcia the only other man who could catch him next week.
What they said
Branden Grace said: “This is awesome. This is the one event as a South African you want to win. It's Africa's Major for a reason and what a special place it is.
“There's a lot of history and a lot of great winners on the trophy and I'm very glad to be able to put my name on the trophy as well.
“I knew I had to stay patient and take the chances when they came my way, but the key one was 16.
“It's a very special week, [my pregnant wife and I] found out on Wednesday we're having a boy as well.”
Tommy Fleetwood added: “I’ve played brilliantly all year. I think to be in with a chance of winning the Race to Dubai, it's pretty special.
“It's not a burden. I don't feel stressed about it, I don't feel anxious. I just think it's great that I've got the chance to win it and a good chance.”
Across the pond
Patton Kizzire held off the challenge of one of the most dangerous players in golf, Rickie Fowler, to win a maiden PGA Tour title on his 62nd career start. The players had faced massive delays due to the adverse weather at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, and Kizzire beat Fowler in a 36-hole marathon final day – closing with rounds of 66-67 for a one-shot victory on 19-under par. Fowler had fallen four strokes behind at one stage before a late rally set up a grandstand finish, while Zach Johnson – 2015 Champion Golfer of the Year – was also in amongst it in Mexico and ended up T-23rd after his 64 was the lowest final-round score.