Grace with Tiger in WGC-Bridgestone draw

There is little doubt Branden Grace may be a little awestruck when he tees off with Tiger Woods in the first two rounds of this week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.

But the reality is he has earned the right to play with the biggest crowd-puller in modern golf in exactly the same way as Woods did: He is the only other three-time winner on the major men’s tours this year.

Grace opened quite a few eyes with his three European Tour titles this season. He won the Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned Joburg Open and the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa in back-to-back starts in January and also won the Volvo China Open in April.

So the man who, when asked about influences, represents a generation of golfers which is not intimidated by Woods when he says things like, “My family’s played a major role.”

Grace will be playing in his second WGC event of the year after he came 35th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March ahead of his victory in China just a month later.

Since then, he has played in the US Open and the Open Championship, and while his results haven’t been startling – 51st in the US Open and 77th in the Open – he has been building on his experience base.

In addition, the Firestone Country Club is likely to be a little more to his liking, giving him the freedom to be more attacking than he was able in the two majors. “It’s a boring course,” Jack Nicklaus has said of it. “You can fall asleep on it because you’re always hitting the same kind of shots – woods or long irons.” Woods and long irons is Grace’s game.

The other South Africans in the field also have interesting pairings: Open champion Ernie Els plays with Masters champion Bubba Watson, while the man who was runner-up to Watson, Louis Oosthuizen, plays with Hunter Mahan.

Retief Goosen is drawn with Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, winner of last week’s Lyoness Open in his home country, while Charl Schwartzel is drawn with Johnson Wagner.

And the man who played his way into the event by his victory in the Sunshine Tour’s Dimension Data Pro-Am in February, Oliver Bekker, is paired with Holland’s Joost Luiten.

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