Grace notches first European Tour win|
Johannesburg, South Africa (Sports Network) - Branden Grace took a three-shot
lead into Sunday's final round and fired an even-par 72 to hold off Jamie
Elson and win the Joburg Open.
Grace played a total of 21 holes on Sunday at Royal Johannesburg and
Kensington Golf Club after weather delays forced a change in schedule. He
entered the day tied with Richard Finch, who had four holes remaining in the
third round, but closed with two birdies to set up a significant advantage.
Finch, meanwhile, was plus-one over the last three holes and was tied with
George Coetzee after 54 holes in second at 14-under. With a three-shot lead
over the pair, Grace didn't need to take chances over the final 18 holes and
finished at 17-under 270 for his first European Tour title.
"It's a dream come true," said Grace, a South African. "It's nice to win in
front of a home crowd, and I wouldn't exchange it for anything else."
Grace avoided any serious mistakes over the back nine -- all pars -- to deny
Elson a miracle comeback. Elson entered the final round 10 strokes off the
lead, but whittled it to one with a closing eagle at the par-five 18th. He
waited in the clubhouse for a potential playoff, but Grace never flinched.
Elson, who tied the East Course record of nine-under 63 set by Charl
Schwartzel, finished second at 16-under 271 overall. David Drysdale (67), Marc
Warren (68), Jaco Van Zyl (68), Trevor Fisher, Jr. (68), Dawie Van Der Walt
(70) and Michiel Bothma (71) shared third at 14-under.
Both Finch (78) and Coetzee (75) tailed off over the final 18 holes, finishing
24th and 14th, respectively. Neither was a factor in the final outcome.
Grace, who finished in the top five for the first time, became the first Q
School graduate to win a European Tour event the year after graduating since
Simon Khan captured the 2010 BMW PGA Championship.
Grace held a significant margin for most of the round, and the only drama was
to see if he would fold under the pressure brought by the hard-charging Elson.
"It was pretty tough out there today," Grace said. "I played really nicely, I
hit the ball superb I think, and the putter was just cold -- I couldn't get
the speed of the greens going today. Fortunately, at the end of the day, it
Elson, who finished his round much earlier than Grace due to the large initial
gap between the two players, waited for a majority of Grace's back-nine play
to see if he would sneak in a playoff. Elson, like Grace, barely made it to
this event, needing to hole a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole of Q
School to earn his tour card.
Like in Q School, Elson made a clutch putt on the last hole -- a 30-foot eagle
putt -- to give himself a chance, but Grace's lead proved to be one shot too
many. He had only one bogey and one birdie in the final round.
NOTES: Elson had seven birdies and an eagle on Sunday, including a stretch of
five straight birdies on the front nine. It was his second 63 of the
tournament, though the other came on the easier West Course...Sunday was the
only day of the tournament without a weather delay...The European Tour remains
in South Africa next week for the Volvo Golf Champions, won by Paul Casey in
01/15 09:46:55 ET