A strong South African showing, including Branden Grace’s win, helped make the 2017 Nedbank Golf Challenge one to remember, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
I read somewhere in the build-up to the event that you bet against Branden Grace on home soil at your peril. How accurate that proved to be as the 29-year-old returned to the winner’s circle with a tremendous display on Sunday. Despite leaving a few putts out there, Grace was sublime in his approach to the tricky pins on Sunday at the Gary Player Country Club. He said all the right things at the beginning of the week and then backed them up when it mattered most. It has been a difficult year, but he turned it around nicely on home soil and now looks like a certainty at the SA Open in January.
He struggled all week and never really got into it – how crazy then to consider that he was always there and thereabouts. If he had played the final two holes level (instead of +5), he would have placed fourth and not T12. And the fact that he finished level for his final round , despite dropping four shots in three holes from the sixth hole shows that he’s up for the fight. His swing remains one of the most envied on tour, but 2018 will largely rest on what he does on the range in the next few months. A win at the SA Open could spark a run before The Masters, where he is always a threat.
Fichardt takes his gap
You would forgive Darren Fichardt for blowing out in his first round after his mad scramble to the tee, following Anthony Wall’s late withdrawal. Instead, he held his nerve and put all his experience to use and flew the flag prominently. His comeback to Saturday’s 75 was brilliant as he stormed back up the leaderboard with a Sunday 68. Although he missed out on a spot at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai this week, he is €208 084 richer, and no doubt excited for his next competitive round.
Porteous plays his way into season finale
Porteous continued his good season with a top-15 finish this week, which had the bonus of a spot in Dubai. His recent trend of starting well and then fading was somewhat reversed, as he produced his best round on Saturday. A round that showed exactly what kind of player he is at his best, even if his 67 still contained three drops. He appears to have a good head on him, and with a little more consistency he could very quickly make a move inside the top 100 of the world rankings.
Stone’s uphill battle
While Porteous played his way into Dubai, Stone played his way out. Stone missed the cut at the Italian Open and then was 76 in China and 74 in Sun City. He told the media that he is working on some swing changes that will make his more consistent in the long run. It’s been a long year (and it’s not done yet), filled with highs and some lows for the 24-year-old as he looks to work his way back to the kind of form he was at this time last year. His ranking in the world is almost double compared to what it was, and he needs to find his groove quickly if he wants to keep pace with his peers, who appear to be trending in the right direction.