He managed only 77th in last year’s Open Championship, but Branden Grace’s play-off loss to Phil Mickelson in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open has laid down a marker ahead of this year’s Open at Muirfield.
After a quiet patch following his good start to the year – top-10 finishes in the Volvo Champions, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters – he rebounded with a week of fine play at Castle Stuart, only to be edged out by a moment of Mickelson magic as the left-hander’s 45-yard pitch on the first play-off hole nearly spun into the hole, setting up a six-inch tap-in for birdie that Grace was unable to match from 25 feet.
“I hit what I thought was a great third,” said Grace of his approach on the long par-five play-off hole. “I was a couple of yards closer than in regulation, I thought I hit it a lot better than it turned out, and I couldn’t believe it came up short.
“And I just imagined he was going to do something special with a lob wedge in his hands, and that’s what he did,” he said.
But, for Grace, he will take heart from his play, coming as it did to confirm his ability over links course – his Volvo Champions win in 2012 came on The Links Fancourt, and he won last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.
“It’s just nice being in contention again,” said Grace. “It’s been a while, but the swing held up, and the putting kept up as well, which was nice. In the windy conditions today, I’m really pleased with how things went.
“It’s nice to know that I was able to switch it on when I needed to on the back nine, and it’s a good confidence booster going into next week. The vibes are good, and I just hope I can take this quality of golf to Muirfield,” he added.
He actually got to Muirfield for a look at the Open course last Monday. “It’s in great condition,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve played a links course as good as that before, but it’s going to change a lot ahead of Thursday. And by the weekend, it’s going to get so firm and speedy out there, but it’s a good challenge.”