Branden edges clear at Telkom PGA Championship

Branden Grace edged a single stroke clear of his pursuers on Saturday as he carded a five-under-par 67 to lead the R3.25-million Telkom PGA Championship on the Woodmead course at Country Club Johannesburg.

And it took a superb little chip to within a foot on 18 for him to pull ahead of George Coetzee, with whom he has been waging a thrilling battle throughout the tournament.

That gave him a simple birdie putt, while Coetzee missed a six-footer for birdie which would have drawn him level with Grace.

“I actually thought my second to 18 was on the green,” said Grace of his approach to the 536-metre par-five. “It was the perfect length, but it just bounced back instead of forwards.

“I got a bit lucky there too, because it could have rolled back into the bunker, but it held up and gave me a nice little chip,” he added.

Grace is seeking his second professional victory after his maiden Sunshine Tour win in October last year, while Coetzee is looking for his fifth victory – his first since 2008.

After opening rounds of 65 and 64 for each of them, Grace and Coetzee found scoring a little tougher as the race to the finish got closer.

Grace’s 67 trumped Coetzee’s 68, and it contained his first dropped shot of the week: “I think I just lost concentration for a bit,” said Grace of his bogey on the 10th which came as a result of some porr putting.

Coetzee wavered at two successive holes, as he bogeyed 12 and 13 with his two worst drives of the week. “I think I know what I did wrong, and I’ll be making sure it doesn’t happen again tomorrow,” he said.

The tension in the leading group – Grace and Coetzee were joined by Hennie Otto, who could not make a single birdie after his third for the day on the sixth hole – meant that Neil Schietekat’s superlative eight-under-par 64 was the round of the day, catapulting him into a share of second with Coetzee.

His was a flawless round, as he made five birdies on his opening nine, and then three more on his way home.

The 27-year-old Schietekat, who qualified to play in the Open Championship, is on a mission to win his first professional title since he turned professional in 2006.

Behind Schietekat, 2009 champion Jaco van Zyl, Oliver Bekker and Neil Cheetham all carded seven-under-par 65s. Bekker’s round moved him to 15-under-par for the tournament in a share of sixth; Cheetam was in a share of 10th, eight shots off the lead; and Van Zyl climbed to a share of 16th, 10 off the pace.

Grace and Coetzee have been friends since their amateur days, and the shootout between them in the final round promises to be entertaining.

“I told myself this is one event I really want to win,” said Grace, “so I have been trying to stay in the here and now. I have managed to do that so far, and I hope tomorrow’s not going to be any different.”

Coetzee, on the other hand, is content to relinquish the lead to Grace – for now. “Let him do the front running,” he said. “I’ll do the charging.”

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