Amazing win for Grace under pressure

Branden Grace had a one-stroke lead and nine holes to play after Jamie Elson eagled the 18th, but the former overcame the pressure and carded nine consecutive pars to win the €1,3-million Joburg Open.

“It was a bit more special to grind it out with nine pars, but that doesn’t mean it was easier. I kept hitting good shot after good shot – I couldn’t dream of hitting better approaches through my last five –and it was just a matter of staying patient,” said Grace.

The 23-year-old won the Gary Player Trophy for the best stroke average during 2011, and that consistency was finally rewarded when he took his first European Tour win, which came at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club on Sunday.

“It’s been a long time coming and it’s nice to take my first win at home. Hard work and consistency paid off. From just getting my European Tour card, to gaining exemption, to playing events I never thought I would this year has really been unbelievable,” he said.

The George Golf Club professional had a shaky start after making bogey at the second, but settled through the front stretch and birdied the ninth to reaffirm his lead.

But Jamie Elson made sure the victory was not simple when he eagled the 18th and left Grace with a one-stroke lead and everything to lose over the back stretch. “I didn’t really look at the leaderboard, but I did see that Jamie was 16-under and finished, so I knew it was up to my hands. But I stuck to my gameplan and that was enough at the end,” said Grace.

He shot level-par for the final 18, but Grace had entered the final round at 17-under-par, which proved to be enough to secure his victory.

The youngster was dominant on his way to the final round and shot 67, 66, 65 ahead of day four. He attributed much of his success to his playing partner, Jbe Kruger, who closed the event in a share of ninth at 13-under. “Playing with Jbe over the first three days was awesome. I think that was a big part of my taking this victory, because every day was like a casual round of golf – we were just knocking balls around and having fun – and that made it a really great week. Everything just came together,” he said.

Grace gave further recognition to his caddie, Zack Rasego, who was on the bag for Louis Oosthuizen when he took his historic win at the Open Championship in 2010.

“Zack really helped me out over the last couple of holes by refreshing my mind. He told me to relax and that I have won before and I should just relive that moment. It was the right advice – he was amazing throughout the week,” said Grace.

While the impact of his win sank in, Grace could scarcely forget the emotions, yet looked ahead with excitement. “I had goosebumps when the applause started as we walked up to the 18th. I will never forget that moment – walking up to the 18th green and knowing that it was my week. Everyone has been asking me whether I’m playing the Volvo Golf Champions tournament next week, and the answer was always no, but now it’s all yes.

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