The chaotic weather delays during the Nelson Mandela Championship tempered Branden Grace as he rediscovered his putting confidence en route to a second-round 66 at Mount Edgecombe Country Club on Friday.
He closed round two on 10-under-par and within one stroke of the lead. “The turnaround point was on the second hole,” said the 25-year-old. “I hit a great drive just short of the green and hit a good flop shot over the bunker to about five feet. I had a good, positive stroke into that and when I made it I felt a lot better over the putts.”
The afternoon’s play was suspended at 6.45pm due to bad light, and will resume at 6am on Saturday morning. Englishman Daniel Brooks still had seven holes to complete when play was put on hold, and he’ll look to increase his current total of 12-under-par in the morning. One shot ahead and in fine form, Brooks has the chance to stretch out his lead before the close of round two, which precedes a cut to the top65 players and those tied on the number.
Grace, a four-time European Tour winner, is without victory this season and the €1-million Nelson Mandela Championship is last chance saloon for him.
“I feel like this week shows what happens when you make those few extras putts. I’m right up there again and it’s all about the putting. If I can keep rolling the ball well then hopefully tomorrow will be one more memory of lifting a trophy. It would be great to finish the year off with a win,” he said.
One shot ahead of the ambitious young star are Spain’s Jorge Campillo, who shot 59 on Friday to set the clubhouse lead on 11-under, and England’s Matthew Baldwin.
The scoring was out there and a second 59 was recorded by Colin Nel, who had 11 putts on either nine and moved 120 places up the leaderboard into 23rd place.
“To have 22 putts says it all, 11 on each nine. As a pro you dream of having 22 putts. I’ve been hitting the ball good over the past couple of months, but I just haven’t been able to score. I haven’t been able to get it all going and you just need one round for it to all fall into place, and today was the day,” he said.
Grace started at the 10th and had his patience tested while he churned through his first loop in level par. On the front stretch, which was his second nine, he found the missing pieces of his game and birdied the sixth, seventh and eighth on his way to a share of second place.
“I think with the tough conditions I spent all my concentration away from the putting stroke. In the last couple of months I’ve really been concentrating on the putting stroke and thinking about it too much,” he said.
The tournament has been reduced to 54 holes and half of the field has yet to complete their second round, but the unusual scenario did little to offset Grace’s goal for the week.
“Mandela is one of the reasons I am here,” said Grace. “A lot of people think I’m here for the top 50, but I think I’ve secured that for the year. Coming here you’re trying to get the win for Madiba, not that it will make everything better for the country, but hopefully it will put a little smile on some people’s faces. Maybe if you lift the trophy at the end you can say ‘this is for him’.”