Branden Grace began the first round of the BMW SA Open as the favourite, both with the bookies and the fans, and did not disappoint, writes WADE PRETORIUS at Glendower.
Starting well after Chase Koepka had laid down the early marker of seven under par 65, the world’s 30th ranked player started par-eagle-birdie to race to three under.
That start got the gallery excited but they were silenced somewhat with dropped shots at four and six.
Searching for his first win at this event, the 29-year-old birdied the seventh before his second eagle of the day – courtesy of a 25 foot putt – at eighth got the crowd’s excitement levels charging once more.
A wonderful wedge into the 10th saw him move to -5 and take control of the marquee group featuring Charl Schwartzel and Chris Wood.
That’s where Grace’s scoring slowed as Schwartzel matched his countryman’s 3 on the 10th and made three more in a row.
Still two back of Koepka, Grace failed to convert a good chance on the short par 3 14th but his putter worked a charm on the next as he rolled in a testing 20 foot putt for eagle – his third – which helped him join Koepka at the top of the pile.
‘I can’t remember when last – or even if – I made three eagles in a round, but it was fun,’ said Grace. ‘I was a little bit rusty with some of the wedge shots and things like that but all in all very pleased with the outcome and I think I pretty much got the most out of that round.’
‘The eagles were not really a sign of playing aggressively,’ he said.
‘On all the par-fives, I pretty much hit great tee-shots and really gave myself some chances. The only one I was really aggressive with was the second hole. It was just the second hole of the day, and I had something like 244 to the flag into the wind. I was quite aggressive with the three-wood and I managed to knock it about 25 feet and managed to roll in the putt. I think that was probably the most aggressive I was all day.
‘The rest was trying to hit it into position and trying to make the putts. You know, I get on a streak like this where I make one of those longish putts in the first couple of holes, then I pretty much know I just have to get it there. I did leave a few short. I had the lines on all of them, but the speed was just a little off.’
‘After a seven-week break, when I came out to practice on Tuesday morning and in the pro-am in the afternoon, I didn’t really hit it great,’ he said.
‘I was very rusty. I wanted two good practice sessions before I came to the tournament, and the wind on Sunday and Monday at home at Fancourt was dreadful. I couldn’t really do much, but yesterday was a good day for me.’
A wayward drive on 18 did not dampen his day as Grace finished with a par which was met by a roar of approval from the large gallery that had followed him throughout the day.
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