10th January 2018 | Sunshine Tour
Grace heads field in strong BMW SA Open
As far as the bookmakers are concerned, he’s the favourite to win the BMW South African Open proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni, but Branden Grace will have to shake off some festive-season rust if he’s to win the tournament that tees off on Thursday at Glendower Golf Club.
The 2017 Nedbank Golf Challenge winner is the highest-ranked player in the field at 30th in the Official World Golf Ranking – Charl Schwartzel is just four positions back – and he has attracted a lot of attention from fans and the media, even though just about everyone is returning after a lengthy break.
“I’m a bit rusty because I didn’t do that much over the holidays, but I did some good work last week and I feel the game is creeping closer. I hope I’m ready to go on Thursday morning,” said Grace.
“Sometimes a break will help you more than if you play four or five in a row. It feels as if it’s definitely helped me. I’ve had seven weeks off now. I needed that time off. I played maybe four or five rounds in seven weeks. I saw a couple of guys who said they haven’t touched a club before Monday.”
Schwartzel is in a similar boat. “It’s a matter of whether after six or seven weeks off you’re going to get into a scoring mode,” he said.
“Monday was the first time I played this course since I lost to Andy Sullivan in 2015 on that disastrous Sunday – or disastrous few holes, anyway,” he added, referring to his collapse over the final few holes while leading comfortably. “There were glimpses of those memories that came back and it was nice to come back and play in the pro-am and get over those memories. That was one win I had in my hands but with a couple of bad shots down the stretch, it got away from me. It’s definitely one of those that I want to get onto my CV.”
Someone who already has the title on his CV is defending champion Graeme Storm, who defeated Rory McIlroy in an epic play-off last year. He, too, will have his rust issues. “I was back home over the holidays,” he said. “The weather was not great and I have also been suffering with a bit of an injury. I had to have a cortisone injection on my wrist and I wasn’t really able to practice that much and I was just chilling with my family really.”
But he will draw on his memories of last year. “I’m looking forward to defending this week, it should be a good fun,” he said. “I’m little more relaxed than I was last year, but now I am really looking forward to the tournament and the year ahead.”
But Grace is looking forward to it as much as anyone else. “To win the SA Open is definitely one of my childhood dreams,” he said. “This is one of those tournaments that I grew up watching. If I win this, I can say I’m one of the few guys who has won the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the Nedbank Golf Challenge and the SA Open [Note: Ernie Els is the only player to have done that]. So I’m here for that.”