McGrane surges into lead with sizzling 63 in Joburg
DAMIEN McGRANE has burst out of the shadows after the most frustrating 12 months of his career.
The Kells man suddenly rediscovered his old scoring touch at the Joburg Open as he surged into a share of the lead on eight-under with a phenomenal first-round 63 which equalled his best on the European Tour.
A golden eagle and seven birdies served as a perfect tonic for 40-year-old McGrane, who started his 2012 campaign two weeks earlier than usual in South Africa in a deliberate attempt to give his flagging confidence a boost.
Missing the cut at last weekend's African Open in Leopard's Creek suggested poor form might have followed McGrane into the New Year but those fears were brilliantly dispelled on the West Course at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club yesterday.
"I played beautiful from start to finish, and this course does give up opportunities," he beamed. "The greens and weather were perfect, so if you're on your game there are birdie chances. Needless to say, you have to make the chances and today I holed a few nice putts."
Ironically, the weather closed in shortly after the Meath man signed his card, violent electrical storms interrupting play for several hours before England's Jamie Elson joined McGrane at the top of the leaderboard with a 63 of his own.
Dubliner Peter Lawrie and defending champion Charl Schwartzel were among those sharing 104th place on even-par after both had completed just 15 holes on the more difficult East Course, while Simon Thornton was three-over through six holes on the West.
This represents a particularly disappointing first day for Masters Champion Schwartzel as he bids for a third successive victory in the leafy suburbs of his home town. Sunshine Tour stalwart Desvonde Botes (37) flew the flag for the 'Home Team' with a phenomenal bogey-free 65 on the East Course to share third place on seven-under par.
Tribute must also be paid to his fellow South African Retief Goosen for bravely defying diarrhoea and dehydration in a solid round of 66 on the West Course.
Unlike Botes, who completed his day's work with an eagle at 18, McGrane dropped his only shot at the final hole.
Any frustration the Meathman might have felt by that hiccup at 18 was allayed by good all-round play and a rousing chip-in from 14 feet off the green at 15 for his own splendid eagle three.
McGrane, who had just two top-10s on Tour in 2011 and missed the cut in seven of his last 12 events as he grimly fought to hang onto his card in 115th place on the Order of Merit, was most encouraged to rediscover such hot form with his putter.
As he'd explained last week, "for 12 months, I scored poorly. I didn't play badly, I just scored badly compared to what I'd normally do ... and I did it for 12 months in a row, which is extraordinary.
"It was all about the putts failing to drop," McGrane added. "If the putts fall into the hole, you can't go wrong. If they don't, you can do no right."
His putts certainly dropped from the off yesterday as McGrane picked up a shot at the second and then launched into a hat-trick of birdies at the fifth before completing the outward half in five-under with another at nine.
Further birdies at 11 and 12 eased him into the lead, followed by his eagle at 15 and that hiccup at the last.
"I hit plenty of fairways and holed a few nice putts for birdie, it was just the bogey at the last which was disappointing," he said. "Apart from that it was a perfect round of golf.
"There's no run on the fairways so the course plays very long and I had to use every club in the bag to get around the course.
"It's about making the best of the situation," said the 2008 Volvo China Open champion.
Last year certainly was out of character for a doughty fighter who will tip his career earnings over the €4m mark with a decent finish this weekend.