Branden Grace returns to the Links at Fancourt in his hometown of George for this weekÂs Vodacom Origins of Golf Final laden with very fond memories of the place – not least of all from his last visit.
His maiden European Tour victory came at the Joburg Open in January, which was indeed a defining moment in his career. But the very next week he travelled to the Links and proved it was no fluke as he claimed the Volvo Golf Champions title courtesy of a playoff victory over Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
This win underscored GraceÂs prodigious talent significantly more as it was in a high profile field that included all the winners from the previous two years on the European Tour, along with players who had amassed 15 or more career victories.
Although Grace has been comparatively quiet since his triumphs at the beginning of the year, he did consolidate his season with a win at the Volvo China Open. He lies 12th in the Race to Dubai standings, and has still retained a comfortable lead at the summit of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit.
And what better place to come in search of further success than a course he knows so well and one that he has already claimed victory at this year.
The Links is a brutal test of golf, and, although the weather appears to be set fair for the week ahead, there are few holes where players can relax. Moreover, the course measures nearly 7,000 metres, and is as long as any course the players will encounter at sea level.
But the Joburg Open championÂs style of play could not be better suited to the par-73 beast, as he sits 24th on the European Tour for driving distance. He also sits a highly impressive 30th for putts per green in regulation, and this could be the most telling statistic of all as he and his fellow professionals endeavour to negotiate the treacherous contours of the LinksÂ greens.
Another man returning to native shores this week is George Coetzee. The man from Pretoria has made quite an impact in his third full year on the European Tour, and currently sits a very commendable 43rd on the Order of Merit.
Coetzee hasnÂt been back to South Africa since the Joburg Open, and will be desperate to make an early impression at the start of the summer season. Like Grace, CoetzeeÂs form has also rather tailed off in the second half of the year, but he comes into the week off the back some much needed rest, and perhaps a change of scenery might be just the thing to re-ignite his season.
For the viewer, it also sets up the mouth-watering prospect of a duel between these two local heroes. Few could forget the captivating final round of the Volvo Golf Champions eight months ago, as three of South AfricaÂs biggest guns locked horns.
And while any one of the 72-strong field are capable of lifting the coveted trophy come Friday afternoon, a battle between these two European Tour stars would provide no shortage of entertainment.
By Michael Todt