11th January 2018 | Sunshine Tour
Grace soars to SA Open lead with 3 eagles
Branden Grace made three eagles on his way to a seven-under-par 65 on Thursday to take a share of the first-round lead of the BMW SA Open proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni at Glendower Golf Club.
He also made two bogeys on an eventful front nine, but three birdies to go with his three eagles saw him match the morning round of Chase Koepka of the United States, brother of the US Open champion Brooks. The pair had a one-stroke edge over Chris Paisley of England and two over Bradley Neil of Scotland, South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen and Richard Sterne, and Spain’s Nacho Elvira.
“I can’t remember when last – or even if – I made three eagles in a round, but it was fun,” said Grace. “I was a little bit rusty with some of the wedge shots and things like that but all in all very pleased with the outcome and I think I pretty much got the most out of that round.”
With those eagles, one would have thought Grace had played aggressively, but he said he wasn’t. “The eagles were not really a sign of playing aggressively,” he said. “On all the par-fives, I pretty much hit great tee-shots and really gave myself some chances. The only one I was really aggressive with was the second hole. It was just the second hole of the day, and I had something like 244 to the flag into the wind. I was quite aggressive with the three-wood and I managed to knock it about 25 feet and managed to roll in the putt. I think that was probably the most aggressive I was all day.
“The rest was trying to hit it into position and trying to make the putts. You know, I get on a streak like this where I make one of those longish putts in the first couple of holes, then I I pretty much know I just have to get it there. I did leave a few short. I had the lines on all of them, but the speed was just a little off.”
That he was a little off was probably the result of a lengthy break over the holidays. “After a seven-week break, when I came out to practice on Tuesday morning and in the pro-am in the afternoon, I didn’t really hit it great,” he said.
“I was very rusty. I wanted two good practice sessions before I came to the tournament, and the wind on Sunday and Monday at home at Fancourt was dreadful. I couldn’t really do much, but yesterday was a good day for me.”
Koepka, a graduate of the European Challenge Tour, also made two bogeys in his round, also eagled the second, and made seven birdies for his 65. “I think I played flawless, except for the second shot on the first hole,” he said. “I hit a poor shot there and saved it to a 12-footer for a bogey there. So, it was big deal to start off my round. I made eagle on the second hole and kind of kept it going from there.”
Tournament host Ernie Els carded an opening 71, while Retief Goosen was on three-under 69, together with Charl Schwartzel who had a frustrating day with three bogeys in his round.
Grace was installed as the bookmakers’ favourite ahead of the tournament, and if he plays like this when he’s rusty, he’s going to be hard to catch. “I hit it well, so I was able to come out and be aggressive off the tee, and if I can get that going, I can keep it up the whole day,” he said.