Saturday 17 March 2018

Grace glory in 'Africa's Major' as Lowry fades

Branden Grace of South Africa is sprayed with champagne after winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images
Branden Grace of South Africa is sprayed with champagne after winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images

William S Callahan

Branden Grace closed with an immaculate 66 to snatch the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player and move into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai.

As Shane Lowry tied for 12th but was left wondering what might have been after a week when his tally of 19 birdies was spoilt by three double-bogeys and a triple, South African Grace (29) thrilled the home fans by capturing the eighth European Tour title of his career and a cheque for €1,069,290.

The final day was a thriller with the final threeball of Grace, Victor Dubuisson and Scott Jamieson giving the fans a grandstand finish.

The trio shared the lead with four holes to play but Grace took the lead by making a 40-footer for a birdie two at the 16th to get to 11 under par and held on for a one-shot victory over Jamieson.

Frenchman Dubuisson shot 70 to finish a stroke further back in third to move comfortably into the top 60 in the Race to Dubai standings who qualify for this week's DP World Tour Championship finale in Dubai.

"This is awesome," said Grace, who hit all 18 greens in regulation. "This is the one event that as a South African you want to win. It's Africa's Major for a reason, and what a special place it is.

"There's a lot of history and a lot of great winners on the trophy and I'm very glad to be able to put my name on the trophy as well.

"It's a very special week - we found out on Wednesday we're having a boy.

"I had to stay patient and I had to take the chances when they came my way. I missed a couple of short ones but I think the big key was the putt on 16."

Now ranked 29th in the world, Grace became the first home winner of the event since Trevor Immelman in 2007, but Irish golf will have to wait another year.

Lowry (below), who started the day seven shots behind overnight leader Jamieson on one-under par, moved swiftly up the leaderboard when he made back-to-back birdie fours at the ninth and 10th.

He then holed a 15-footer up the hill for a two at the 219-yard 12th to move up to eighth on four under par but a double-bogey six the 444-yard 13th - his third double of the week to go with a triple bogey on the 14th on Thursday - proved costly.

After a birdie at the 15th, a bogey at the last denied him a top-10 finish but a 71 still gave him his fourth top 12 from his last six starts and €93,108.

Like Paul Dunne, he will be looking to end the season on a high at Jumeirah Golf Estates this week.

Dunne fired an impressive bogey-free 66 to share 32nd on one over par but slipped one spot to 15th in the rankings as Grace made a big move.

The Greystones man will make his debut in the Dubai finale just over €326,000 behind 10th-ranked Francesco Molinari in the race for the $10m Bonus Pool cash that will be shared by the top 10 money winners at the end of the season.

As for Pádraig Harrington, he ended his European Tour campaign with a 75, finishing tied 42nd on four over.

China's Haotong Li fired a 64 to claim fourth spot on seven-under while Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood tied for 10th and will head to Dubai knowing that only Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia can stop him from becoming European No 1 this season.

"I've played brilliant all year," Fleetwood said. "I think to be in with a chance of winning The Race to Dubai, it's pretty special, really. It's not a burden. I don't feel stressed about it. I just think it's great that I've got the chance to win it. And a good chance."

At the OHL Classic in Mayakoba, Mexico, Graeme McDowell posted a closing 69 to finish on six-under, just outside the top 30 as 31-year-old Patton Kizzire claimed his maiden PGA Tour victory when he held off the challenge of Rickie Fowler to win by one stroke on 19 under par.

Irish Independent

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