Grace up to third in the Race to Dubai
SOUTH Africa's Branden Grace has put himself in contention to finish top of the money list on the European Tour after capturing his fourth tour title this season with victory at the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
Grace carded a final-round 70 on the famous Old Course on Sunday for a record 22-under total to win by two strokes over Thomas Olesen.
His performance at the pro-am event was reminiscent of Louis Oosthuizen's brilliant display to capture the British Open at the same venue in 2010. Grace started the tournament with a career-best round of 60 at Kingsbarns - the tournament uses three courses, including Carnoustie - and never relinquished the lead.
Some of the insights he gained into the nuances of the Old Course came directly from the former Open champion, who shared digs with Grace at the event.
"I had goosebumps thinking about Louis [winning on the Old Course] and the possibility of holding a trophy here myself," Grace said yesterday. "It was a tough day, but the putter started working and that's all I needed to do.
"What really helped was staying with the Oosthuizen family. Every night they had dinner together; we went to functions together and I played with his kids. It helped me relax and get ready for it."
Grace also benefited from the experience of caddie Zack Rasego, who was on Oosthuizen's bag when he won the Open two years ago. Rasego's understanding of the greens played a big part in ensuring Grace had birdie chances on the back nine after the player told his caddie to "jump in" and read the lines.
Grace, 24, has enjoyed a remarkable 10-month stretch after returning to qualifying school last year to gain his card for the European Tour after having lost it in a dismal season.
A product of the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation, Grace ended last year at No271 in the world. When the new rankings were published yesterday, he was at No37.
"The confidence I had after getting my card back lifted me sky-high and everything has just been going my way since then," Grace said. "I've been working hard, I've been really working hard on my short game, which was my downfall in the past."
Grace is now up to third on the European Tour's Race to Dubai, with earnings of slightly more than à2-million, thanks to victories at the Joburg Open, Volvo Golf Champions and Volvo China Open.
He is now challenging for the overall Race to Dubai crown, with only Justin Rose and world No1 Rory McIlroy ahead of him on the standings.
Grace's fourth win also sees him become only the second South African after Els, in 2003, to win four European titles in a single season. And for the fourth time, Grace won while leading or sharing the lead going into the final round.