Branden takes down Ernie, Retief to win Volvo Champions

Branden Grace won the €2-million Volvo Champions at The Links at Fancourt in the first hole of a sudden death playoff on Sunday to take his second European Tour title in just two weeks.

He sank a three-footer for birdie on the 18th – after missing one of similar length in regulation play on the same hole – and then defeated Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, two icons of South African golf, as he became just the sixth player to win their first two European Tour events in back-to-back-tournaments.

“When I missed the putt in regulation, I didn’t really think I had a bad putt,” he said. “I might have slightly misread the line a little bit, but I think it’s one of those things where you don’t want to overdo it. I didn’t want to miss it on the high side and I wanted to hit it in.”

And there was the small matter of beating two boyhood idols, too. “Just standing on the tee with Ernie and Retief was unbelievable on the playoff,” he said. There was a calm about me, the whole playoff hole actually. I think I was more nervous and more pumped up going down the last hole when I walked up the fairway.”

Even though he wasn’t able to pull off his victory in regulation, he was aware of what he eventually achieved.

“I’ve beaten Ernie and Retief in a playoff,” said Grace of his victory, “and I know that I can do it again.”

The win also catapulted him into the ranks of golf’s elite as he will move inside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Rankings when they are released after the weekend’s action is over. That’s a huge climb from his 258th spot before he won last week’s Joburg Open.

He started his final round so unimpressively, too: With a double-bogey on the third and a bogey to follow that up, it seemed as if his chances of winning – so good when he led by four at halfway – had evaporated as Els, Goosen, Charl Schwartzel and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts all made attempts to wrest the trophy from their opponents.

But, in an exhibition of his new-found imperturbability, he birdied six and nine ahead of the turn, and then 12, 13 and 16 on his way in.

But he was less assured as he stood over the birdie attempt on 18 in regulation play. “I was just nervous, I guess,” he said. “I actually thought I’d hit a good putt, but it was just a little too soft.”

And so it was down the 18th fairway for a second time in the final round. “I had said to my caddie Zac [Rasego] when we walked up the first time that I didn’t want to have to climb the hills again,” he said.

But the 23-year-old set out for that second journey with Els, 42, and Goosen, 43, giving two of the greatest players South Africa has produced nearly 20 years in experience as well as age – and he played the hole much better than either of them.

As Els pulled his drive into thick rough left of the fairway and had to punch out before sending his third sailing to 25 feet past the pin, Goosen pushed his approach right of the green and left himself a tricky chip which he left well short of the pin.

The cool-headed Grace hit his drive down the middle of the fairway and then punched a three-wood low up the hill, and listened with satisfaction to the roars from the crowd which told him he’d reached the green.

The enormity of the victory won’t sink in immediately, much as his win in Johannesburg didn’t. “I think I’ve just been running on emotion. I’ll keep playing and playing until I’m exhausted and until I find it’s time to take a break.”

Watch out world!

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