Branden Grace completed his dream set of titles after coming from three shots behind heading into the final round to beat compatriot and defending champion, Louis Oosthuizen, to win the South African Open in Johannesburg.
Grace, a former Alfred Dunhill Links champion, single-putted nine greens in a row and had only 22 putts in total as he closed with a scintillating nine-under-par 62 on the Firethorn Course at Randpark Golf Club.
In recovering from an early bogey to card an eagle and eight birdies, the 31-year-old finished with a 21-under-par 263 total, three shots ahead of second-placed Oosthuizen, pictured, who had a hole in one at the eighth in his closing 68.
It is Grace’s ninth European Tour title triumph and meant he has now won all the main professional titles in South Africa after previous succcesses in the Joburg Open, Alfred Dunhill Championship, Nedbank Golf Challenge and Dimension Data Pro-Am.
“That was remarkable,” he said after tasting victory in the first event of the new decade in front of his home fans. “I played flawless golf and I can’t remember the last time the putter was that hot. I’ve done a lot of hard work on my putting. I started working with Brad Faxon and it has paid off big time.
“This is the one I really wanted. This means so much to any South African, winning on home soil, the guys get so behind you and it’s such an emotional feeling.”
After holing the winning putt, Grace celebrated with his wife, Nieke, and walked off the green with their young son, Roger, in his arms. “It’s the first win with the little one here, so he’s going to have a photo with the trophy and then it’s a good birthday wish to my Mrs today. She’s a birthday girl today so it’s a good birthday present,” he added
The victory secured Grace, who became the first player to shoot a 62 in a major when achieving the feat in the 2017 Claret Jug event at Royal Birkdale, a place at this summer’s 147th Open Championship at Royal St George’s, where he will be joined by fellow qualifiers Marcus Armitage and Jaco Ahlers.
Englishman Armitage holed a 12-foot birdie putt at the last to finish third on 16 under, with South African Ahlers a shot behind alongside Jack Senior, who was edged out for the Open spot by virtue of being eight places lower than Ahlers in the world rankings.
After being in the top ten in the Race to Dubai for four of the previous seven seasons, Grace finished 113th last year before hinting of a return to winning ways at last month’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek with a tie for third.
“I played really good,” he admitted of this effort, having dropped a shot at the second before putting his foot to the floor with an eagle at the par-5 fourth and birdies at the third, fifth, seventh and ninth on the front nine before adding four birdies on the spin from the 11th.
“What an amazing day. From the third hole onwards the putter was hot. What an amazing day it was. I had nine one putts in a row, and that’s what I needed.”
After making his ace, which went down well with the huge crowd following the final group, Oosthuizen shared the lead with nine to play, but his hopes of a successful title defence were undone by a frustrating day on the greens. In contrast to the winner, the 2010 Open champion had 34 putts after two-putting every hole apart from the eighth.
Connor Syme finished as the top Scot, finishing joint 22nd on nine-under after a closing 72. It was the 24-year-old’s third straight top-25 effort of the season. After charging up the leaderboard with a 65 on Saturday, Marc Warren signed off with a 75 to finish in a tie for 45th on six under par.