Grace close to ascension to top of golf peak

2015 Nedbank Golf Challenge: Day 1He won’t say it of himself in as many words, but Branden Grace will have something to contribute to the conversation about the domination of world golf by the current ‘big three’.

Against the backdrop of his ascent to a career-high spot on the Official World Golf Rankings of 15th, a spot in the top 10 beckoning, and his resultant assumption of the mantle of South Africa’s best golfer as he overtook Louis Oosthuizen in the rankings, a discussion about Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day can be spiced up with speculation about how Grace fits in to golf’s hierarchy.

“A win this week in the Nedbank Golf Challenge can probably get me into the world’s top 10,” he said after his opening round of four-under-par 68 at Gary Player Country Club. “That’s one of my main goals, and I’ll keep trying to improve my position.

“It’s nice to know that I’m South Africa’s number one player. There’s a lot of hard work that’s gone into it. I’ve been dreaming about it for a long time. I’ve been close, but as soon as it might happen, Louis plays well and keeps me out. I’ve got it now, and I hope I can keep playing the type of golf that I am playing and I will try and get as close to number one as I can.”

And after the year Grace had, his quest would appear to be not entirely in vain: He had two victories in the 2015 European Tour season, at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.

But it was his performances in two of the majors of the year that were the real eye-openers. At the US Open at Chambers Bay, Grace held a share of the lead through 54 holes. On Sunday, he was in the group with eventual champion, Spieth, and was still tied for the lead heading to the 16th hole, where he pushed his drive to the right and out of bounds, forcing him to re-tee and eventually leading to a double-bogey to spiral him out of contention to win. He finished with a final round 71, and a tied for fourth position.

And at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits Grace placed in the top-five for the second time in his career at the major championships, when he placed third behind a dominant Day.

The Presidents Cup performance he produced confirmed the impression that here was a golfer who could mix it with anyone at any level. His perfect record of 5-0-0 was the fifth such occasion in Presidents Cup history and just the second time for the International side.

He won’t countenance talk of him belonging in the same company as McIlroy, Spieth and Day – yet. “Those guys have got a couple of majors between them,” he said. “I had a great year, but I wouldn’t say I’m there yet. I’m pretty close, and with all the knocking on the door at majors this year, I believe that a major is what would do it for me.

“I did it well this year. I didn’t over-practice going into the majors and I wasn’t trying too hard. I was actually very relaxed, took it easy, not expecting too much… so I think I’m going to do the same next year and just take it from there.”

It’s perhaps premature and bold to assert this, but it seems only a matter of time before Grace will join the big three.

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