Grace feels at home at Fancourt for Di-Data

SA Open Championship: Round 1The 2015 Sunshine Tour swings into action at the three Fancourt courses on Thursday with the 20th playing of the venerable Dimension Data Pro-Am attracting no fewer than nine players who have won in events co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour.

The most recent of those winners is Branden Grace, who will be taking full advantage of his great familiarity with The Links at Fancourt, and the Montagu and Outeniqua courses, a familiarity brought about by the fact that he plays out of the estate.

The ‘big name’ player amongst those nine is 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke, who won the 2001 Dimension Data Pro-Am, and it seems he is on the verge of being named Ryder Cup captain of the European team for 2016.

The others in that group of nine are Spain’s Pablo Martin Benavides, Garth Mulroy, Dawie van der Walt, George Coetzee, Thomas Aiken, Darren Fichardt and Hennie Otto.

Grace took the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in January, following up on his victory last December in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek, confirming a return to the kind of form which kick-started his rise to international stardom with a string of victories in 2012.

It is also significant that he returns to the scene of his first professional triumph. He took the 2010 Coca-Cola Championship presented by Gary Player at Fancourt. Add that to the fact that he professes a love for The Links at Fancourt, despite the difficulties presented by that course and the battles many of his challengers acknowledge they have on it, and the planets would seem to be aligning nicely for a good week for the 26-year-old.

He has a best of a share of fourth in the Dimension Data Pro-Am. He finished in that position in 2010, when Fichardt won the second of his two titles in the tournament in its inaugural year at Fancourt after moving there from Sun City, and in 2011, when Otto took the title.

Since Otto’s victory, the champions have been Oliver Bekker in 2012, Jaco van Zyl in 2013 and Tano Goya of Argentina last year.

The other former champion in the field is James Kamte, who won the tournament in 2008 at Sun City.

But it won’t be just former champions from whom Grace will expect a challenge: A player like Jacques Blaauw, who spent much of 2014 trying to follow up on his breakthrough 2013 form which handed him three titles, including his maiden Sunshine Tour win, will be itching to get back into the fray after missing the South African Open championship for his wedding.

Other players who won at the back end of the 2014 season include Keith Horne, Titch Moore, Merrick Bremner, Louis de Jager and Jaco Ahlers.

For Grace, victory in an event which he cherishes will be the motivator as much as overcoming the challenge the other players pose. And the winner’s share of the R4.5-million prize fund will make a victory just a little sweeter.

The tournament gets underway on Thursday.

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