South AfricaÂs Branden Grace has taken the European Tour by storm this year with some truly remarkable results. After earning his European Tour playing card last year through qualifying school, he has notched up five victories in 2012. Astonishingly, four of these wins have come on the European Tour.
But even with a cabinet that is rapidly filling up with silverware, the South African Open Championship is still one title that Grace desperately wants to get his hands on.
ÂI think if you ask Charl, Louis or anybody, theyÂll tell you that this is one event that if youÂre a South African you want to win. This is our main event of the year and our biggest in South Africa. So for us to come back here is great if the schedule allows it, and itÂs a good opportunity to get your name in the history books. I know Charl is going to be gunning for a win this week, and, like me, he also wants to win this very badly,Â Grace told a press conference at Serengeti yesterday.
The meteoric rise of the 24-year-old in 2012 simply cannot be overstated. His victory at the Joburg Open was followed by a memorable win at the Volvo Golf Champions as he held off the challenge of Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a playoff. HeÂs since notched up two further European Tour wins at the Volvo China Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. His successes have seen him amass in excess of Â2 million and he currently sits sixth in the Race to Dubai.
Grace is the first player in history to win four times on the European Tour in the year following Tour School, and, should he clinch victory this week, he will become only the fifth player to have won five or more times on the European Tour in a calendar year (excluding Tiger Woods who won five European Tour sanctioned events in 2006 as a non-member).
However, the man from George is simply excited to be back at home and is desperately hoping to round off a wonderful year with more success in his native country.
ÂIÂm really looking forward to whatÂs to come from Thursday. I donÂt really know what to expect, and what the crowds are going to be like, but it would be nice to see a lot of people coming out here to support. Not just myself, but all of us out here.
ÂLast week did me the world of good. I had a week off where I just went home and really didnÂt do a lot. I just wanted to sit and relax a bit because I think I have got a bit tired towards the end now. IÂve played a lot of golf this year and I think it was catching up with me. I really wanted to play and perform well in the next two weeks. I can secure a good finish on the European Tour if I can have a good finish this week and next, and vice versa on the Sunshine Tour as well for finishing the Order of Merit off,Â Grace said.
The Pretoria-born star comes into this weekÂs South African Open at Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate as one of the front-runners to secure the trophy, but he will face some stiff competition in a field littered with some of the worldÂs finest golfers. Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel and Henrik Stenson are just a few of the prominent names competing for the second-oldest national open in the world, and this yearÂs event promises to be one of the most memorable yet.
By Michael Todt