There were clear indications that Branden Grace was the favourite for this weekÂs Vodacom Origins of Golf Final at The Links at Fancourt even before he claimed a share of the first round lead on Wednesday.
For a start, heÂs a three-time European Tour winner this year. One of those wins was here in January, when he beat Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a playoff for the Volvo Golf Champions.
And even the world rankings reflected his status in this weekÂs field. A winter event on the Sunshine Tour usually offers four world ranking points to the winner. GraceÂs presence here, as well as that of fellow European Tour campaigner George Coetzee, has raised the points for a win to 10.
So there was little surprise when Grace opened with a four-under-par 69 to share the lead with Chris Swanepoel, Divan van den Heever and Riekus Nortje in the final event of this six-tournament Vodacom Origins series.
ÂI didnÂt play that well, but I got it going. The key on this course is to keep your misses in the right positions,Â said Grace, who along with his co-leaders is one stroke clear of Neil Schietekat and Ulrich van den Berg.
Van den Berg is due a win, while at two strokes off the lead, Allan Versfeld is hunting a second victory on this series this year.
But Grace will be tough to beat on a course he knows extremely well, and where he has the positive memories of one of the biggest victories of his career.
ÂI feel very relaxed,Â he said of only his third tournament in South Africa since winning the Volvo Golf Champions here. ÂIÂm obviously here to do a job and win, but I donÂt see much of my friends and itÂs great to get on the golf course and have a bit of a laugh with them.Â ThereÂs also a touch of irony in the fact that he is playing in a tournament celebrating the career of Goosen.
ÂIÂve gotten to know Retief really well after I beat him and Ernie here in the Volvo Golf Champions. Retief has put a lot back into SA golf, and this series has been unreal. It gives a lot of opportunities for the Sunshine Tour pros. HeÂs a great guy, and a great ambassador for golf in South Africa.Â
SwanepoelÂs 69 was the result of him focusing more on enjoying his game than paying the bills. ÂI got married four months ago, and while itÂs great, you feel a lot of weight on your shoulders looking after a wife and a house and so on,Â he said at the end of a round that began with two bogeys but then caught fire with a chip-in for birdie on the par-three eighth.
And Nortje clearly benefitted from his practice round with Grace, and a few conversations about this mercurial game. ÂHe took some money off me in the practice round, but it gave me the chance to ask a lot of questions. HeÂs a good person to learn from.Â
By Michael Vlismas