This week the European Tour heads to Shanghai in China for the BMW Masters, and Branden Grace is a man with a particularly large amount to play for. Four European Tour victories in 2012 have seen the man from George enjoy a meteoric rise from being in Qualifying School just 12 months ago. He currently sits third in the Race to Dubai, less than Â800,000 behind leader Rory McIlroy.
It has been a truly sensational year for Grace, and winning the Race to Dubai would be an extraordinary achievement. But, such is the confidence of the man, itÂs something he believes is well within his grasp.
“I am all for catching Rory. And now that I am in third place, first place is definitely in my sights. With a lot of big money events coming up Â800,000 is not a lot to make up,” he said after his victory in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
McIlroy, in turn, has made his desire clear to emulate Luke DonaldÂs accomplishment last year and wrap up both the PGA Tour Money List and the Race to Dubai for the 2012 season, and his presence in the field this week signals his intent to lay down the marker to the chasing pack.
ÂI have finished second in the Race to Dubai two of the last three years so it would be good to knock that off and try to do what Luke did. IÂve got Justin and Branden right behind me and there is still some big-money events left to play,Â McIlroy told reporters.
But while McIlroy won the event last year (it was a non-sanctioned event at that stage), the omens look very promising for Grace as well. He has already tasted victory in China this year at the Volvo China Open, so he certainly wonÂt be out of his comfort zone in the Far East. His track record has also been remarkable in events with vehicle companies as headline sponsors this year, as his wins have included the Volvo Golf Champions, Volvo China Open and the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final which had Volvo as one of its co-sponsors.
Grace elected to rest himself for the last two weeks after his victory at the Dunhill Links Championship, and has prioritised the $7-million BMW Masters this week as an ideal opportunity to gain some ground on McIlroy. The event has a first prize payout of Â890,000, which means that Grace could even leapfrog McIlroy this week. And with the Race to Dubai leader absent for next weekÂs WGC-HSBC Champions, it could be a massive fortnight for Grace and he has a golden opportunity to edge closer to winning the Race to Dubai and achieving the most astonishing of feats.
It wonÂt be easy for him though, as the field for this weekÂs event includes the likes of Justin Rose, who sits between McIlroy and Grace in second place in the Race to Dubai, and the in-form Lee Westwood. In fact, this is the first tournament that includes all 12 of EuropeÂs Ryder Cup stars since their famous victory in Chicago at the end of last month, so there will be no shortage of quality in what is a very strong field.
It certainly promises to be a mouth-watering spectacle in China this week, and predicting a winner would be very difficult. But Grace is a player who has shown his mettle time and again this year, and he seems perfectly poised to continue his incredible run of form. And, in a field littered with the finest golfers in the world, Grace will be one of the men to beat as he pursues yet another victory.
By Michael Todt