Branden Grace has had a quiet few months, but it all came together with a scintillating seven-under-par 65 in the second round of the Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart on Friday.
His round contained seven birdies and nary a drop – in contrast to his opening 71, which had two bogeys and a double to rather spoil his eagle and three birdies – and it vaulted him to within four of the leader Chris Doak.
He is joined at eight-under through halfway by fellow South Africans Richard Sterne and Garth Mulroy, who added a 69 and a 67 respectively to their opening rounds to move into contention.
Jaco van Zyl, Hennie Otto, Darren Fichardt and Keith Horne also all made the cut, but Thomas Aiken, Jbe’ Kruger, Justin Walters and Ernie Els were not so fortunate.
It was particularly frustrating for defending Open champion Els, who was particularly looking forward to a further few days of preparation on Links ahead of next week’s Open at Muirfield. But rounds of 72 and 70 left him two shots shy of the cut line.
“I just didn’t get the bounces,” said Els. “I thought I played quite well today, but I had no idea on these greens, so I’m glad I’m leaving so I can get onto the Muirfield greens.
“I had many opportunities, but I just couldn’t get the run of the course. I got a lot of awkward bounces, but I feel like I’m swinging nicely, so I’ll just head on to Muirfield now,” he added.
Grace, on the other hand, will get two more days on the Castle Stuart course before he heads for the Open, and he will be pleased with his change in fortunes. “My ball striking was on today, but the big key was the putting,” he said. “The putter was really hot today. I had 11 putts on the back nine, which is nice, and a big improvement on the first round.”
It was also a big improvement on recent international form too: He has had just a single top-10 finish since January, and that was in the Volvo World Match Play Championship. His best stroke play performance was a share of 18th in the Masters after a very good start, but he missed the cut in the US Open, after which he has taken some time off from tournament play ahead of the Open.
And he’s relying on memories as much as practice ahead of his date at Muirfield next week: “I only have good memories of Links,” said the man who won last year’s Dunhill Links Championship, one of four 2012 titles on the European Tour.
“The courses where the Dunhill Links are played are not far away from here, so with Billy Foster on the bag – Zack (Rasego) had to go home for a few weeks to take care of some family business – I’ve been fortunate,” Grace added.
“He’s been very good with my course management. I’m a very confident player, and I take a lot of things on. But with Billy on the bag, he’s just pulled me a little back now and then and made me think about taking another route.”
In Grace’s case, the key in that kind of situation is whether he’s willing to listen: “I have to take it in,” he laughed, “even though sometimes I don’t want to do it – I just take it on and trust it.”
That will be a good approach at Muirfield.