independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Grace holds off chasing pack to cap record year

South Africa's Branden Grace celebrates winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews Golf Course

Thoughts of home may have crossed the mind of Branden Grace as he watched the surfers strolling across the West Sands.

And the South African was in danger of being left high and dry at St Andrews as the final round of the Dunhill Links Championship unfolded.

Grace had taken a four-shot lead over Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen into the last day, his commanding performance having begun when he equalled the European Tour's low scoring record with a sublime 60 at Kingsbarns on Thursday.

The engravers must have been reaching for the trophy when he started the final round with a birdie, but by the time he reached the 12th tee his lead had disappeared, his missed putt from three feet at the 11th completing the job that a burst of Olesen birdies had begun.

However, in an age of carbon shafts, there is still a place for nerves of steel.

Grace showed he had them at the Volvo Golf Champions event last January when he saw off the big beasts of South Africa, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, in a play-off.

And he brought them to bear here as he prised open his lead again on the inward stretch to seize victory, a round of 70 putting him two ahead of Olesen, with Sweden's Alexander Noren another shot back.

The win was Grace's fourth on the European Tour this year -- a record for a qualifying school graduate. It also moves him into the top 40 of the world rankings and takes his Race to Dubai earnings above €2m.

Like Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, Grace is a product of the Ernie Els Foundation, and the reigning British Open champion has already tipped him to be another Major champion. Winning at the Home of Golf, as Oosthuizen did in the 2010 Open, will do for the time being, though.

"I've really dreamt of this moment my whole life," said Grace. "I had goosebumps thinking this morning about Louis and the possibility of holding a trophy here myself.

"It was a tough day, but the putter started working and that's all I needed to do."

Els believes the 24-year-old will soon be contending in Majors and has a game particularly suited to the links courses on which the Open is played.

The Claret Jug would certainly give Grace a less challenging haulage headache than the giant silver bowl he was handed at the end yesterday.

Yet an oversized trophy is perhaps a fitting motif for an event that crawls -- six-hour rounds are standard -- round three courses with a field stuffed with amateurs.

Penalty

Only 20 of them get to play on the final day, but one had a significant influence on the outcome for Stephen Gallacher.

Gallacher was lying fourth when he drove from the 16th tee. However, with his next shot he mistakenly played the ball of Steve Halsall, an electrical contractor from Yorkshire who was partnering Danny Willett, and was hit with a two-shot penalty for the offence.

The Scot refused to blame the amateur, which was a remarkably gracious reaction in circumstances that had just cost him close to £70,000. Gallacher still earned £81,415, but with a par on the last hole he would have taken home a cheque for £184,660.

Three of the victorious European Ryder Cup side were in the field, but Martin Kaymer and Peter Hanson managed only a share of 34th place, while Paul Lawrie missed the cut.

Padraig Harrington shot a 68 for a 10-under-par total and a share of 29th place. Shane Lowry carded a 70 to be one shot further back on nine-under, while Peter Lawrie finished on eight-under after his closing 70.

The organisers claim their tournament is a celebration of links golf, so there was an ironic twist to events on Saturday night when a loose firework from a display they had laid on caused a fire to break out in a patch of rough to the right of the second fairway.

As a tribute to the sport's Scottish origins, torching the Old Course is certainly at the more imaginative end of the spectrum.

Elsewhere, Ireland -- handicapped by being a man down due to the bug suffered by amateur champion Alan Dunbar -- finished a disappointing joint 27th in the World Amateur Team Championships in Turkey yesterday.

Florida-based Kevin Phelan and teenager Gavin Moynihan produced spirited performances over the first two rounds at Antalya but on the final day of the weather-affected event, which had to be curtailed to 54 holes, the pressure got to both of them.

Waterford man Phelan shot two-over-par 73 and Moynihan posted a 74, which gave them a tournament aggregate of 430 -- two-over par.

USA won the title with a 24-under-par total of 404, with Mexico second. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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