Dunhill Links: Carnoustie test awaits rising star Branden Grace
HE’S still got his biggest test to come. Carnoustie, after all, is a different proposition to Kingsbarns and St Andrews, which he’s tamed over the last two days with scores of 60 and 67. But, standing on 17-under and holding a five-shot advantage over the field, Branden Grace could prove a tough man to catch in the final two rounds of the £3.5 million Dunhill Links Championship.
The 24-year-old is one of golf’s rising stars. This time last year, he was still trying to earn his stripes on the Challenge Tour. Four titles, three of them on the European Tour, have fallen to him since then and now Grace is closing in on the biggest success of his career.
“I don’t really know what is going on,” he confessed after a six-birdie effort on the Old Course saw him equal the biggest halfway lead on the European Tour this year. “I love the feeling of winning and I think that is motivating me to keep pushing.”
Having triumphed in the Sunshine Tour’s Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Fancourt last week, he’s bidding for back-to-back wins. It’s a feat he’s achieved already this season, having triumphed in the Volvo Golf Champions event, also at Fancourt, straight after getting his year off to a flying start by claiming the Joburg Open title.
After a flawless first-day effort here, he dropped his first shot of the week at the fourth, missing a three-footer. The damage was repaired straight away, though, and his putter “started getting hot again”.
He bagged the last of his six birdies by two-putting the 18th green.
Grace admitted a practice round with compatriot Louis Oosthuizen, who won the Open Championship at St Andrews two years ago, had helped him master the unique test that is the Old Course.
“Louis gave me some lines off the tee and that definitely helped, especially on the first few holes. The first six holes out there are not the easiest driving holes, especially with the wind off the left,” said the leader.
Grace recently broke into the world’s top 50 for the first time. His main goal between now and the end of the season is to finish in the top 10 in the Race to Dubai. Beyond that, a spot on the International team, with Nick Price as its captain, for next year’s Presidents Cup is in his sights.
“That’s been a target since just before the US Open,” he said. “Louis and I had dinner at Nick Price’s house when I had a week off and he said, ‘the way things stand you are in the team’. I really started thinking about it after that and it’s definitely a goal.”
Leading the chasing pack are Dane Thorbjorn Olesen and Swede Joel Sjoholm, the latter having marked his first competitive outing on the Old Course by matching Grace’s five-under-par effort. “The test is not the courses this week; it’s the conditions,” said Sjoholm, a 26-year-old who was born in Chile.
With all due respect to him, Olesen could be a bigger danger to the leader over the final two circuits. He won in Sicily back in April and tied for ninth in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham. Of the leading trio, he’s the only one to have got Carnoustie out of the way. His third round today is at Kingsbarns.
Heading there, too, are Stephen Gallacher and Richie Ramsay, the two leading Scots on seven-under. Among those St Andrews-bound today is Paul Lawrie. He was outscored at Kingsbarns by his 17-year-old son and amateur partner, Craig. “He played lovely and was four under on his own ball – I’m very proud of him,” said the Ryder Cup hero.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west