Friday, 27 January 2012

Amazing Grace comes crashing back to earth in the desert

BRANDEN GRACE came back to earth with a bump in the desert yesterday, finishing day one of the first big tournament of the season a distant eight shots behind joint leaders Robert Karlsson of Sweden and world No3 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.

After winning twice on the European Tour on home soil in South Africa, the 23-year-old sensation could only manage a 75 in the first round of the Abu Dhabi champions.

With the big guns back in action, Grace was hoping to match the late, great Seve Ballesteros with a third successive victory in the capital of the United Arab Emirates when the fourth round draws to a conclusion on Sunday night.

Grace won the year’s second tournament – the Johannesburg Open – and last week held off his heroes Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a play-off to win the Volvo Golf Champions at Fancourt Links near his home town, George. He became the first professional since Fred Couples to win immediately after his debut tour triumph.

Before teeing off against world No1 Luke Donald (71), reviving superstar Tiger Woods (70) and the irrepressible US Open champion McIlroy (67), Grace said: "I just hope my game stays the way it is and my energy levels stay up.

"I've just been running with emotion. I'll keep playing and keep playing until I'm exhausted and until I find it's time to take a break."

But the Buffelsbaai pro struggled on the lush green oasis of the Abu Dhabi golf club, and is unlikely to feature among the leaders on Sunday night.

A third successive win was achieved by German Martin Kaymer two years ago – but his victories were not in consecutive weeks. The last to win three times in successive weeks on the European Tour was super Spaniard Ballesteros in 1986 at the Irish, Monte Carlo and French Opens.

Just a month after coming through the Tour qualifying school in Spain, Pretoria-born Grace has those two victories under his belt and after climbing 166 positions in the world rankings, he said: “Getting into the top 50, I think that is every player's goal. That would put me in the US Masters and to get into a Major would be an unbelievable year.

“If I could achieve that to get into the Masters, it would just be a highlight, indescribable.”

“I know for a fact I'll definitely take it easy the next couple of days, go out and play the Pro-Am in Abu Dhabi and take it from there.”

Grace, after three events of the 2012 season, still leads the Race to Dubai moneylist with R5.8 million in earnings, a fairy-tale start to the season.

“I'm looking forward to the next two weeks. I've always looked forward to playing in big tournaments. So I'm going back and making new goals and taking it from there.”

That round of 75 left him in joint 102nd place in a field of 129. He double bogeyed the par four fifth and turned in 38 and came through the second nine just one over regulation. But the man now ranked 92 in the world was two shots clear of Kaymer, the world No4 who also suffered a horrific opening day in the desert.

And he was doing slightly better than the home favourites. Ahmed Al Musharrekh, the only Emirati in the field, carded a nine over par 81 while Stuart Fee, the top local professional qualifier, produced an awful 15-over 87. The pair fill the 128th and 129th positions on the leaderboard going in to the second round.

Keep track of Grace's progress in the desert... and all the rest of the sport with me in South Africa's new tabloid Scoop! on Sunday... available at all reputable street corners and outlets in Gauteng and KZN. See also

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