ON THE MANICURED fairway just by the verge of the pond with the ornately sprouting fountain marking the approach to the 18th, the public gallery could be audibly heard in one spirited voice bellowing out the hymn of faith as a 29 year old lad, bearing the family name partly the title of the song, prepared to take his round four shot to the final and deciding green.
It was part of patriotic fervour which had witnessed local fans following Branden Grace’s three man leader group completed by Scotsman, Scott Jamieson and Frenchman, Victor Dubuisson – unabashedly showering the local lad with words of encouragement such as, “vasbyt!”
And on a weekend of gloom when Bafana Bafana and the Springboks fell short, he didn’t disappoint as he produced a stunning closing 66 to win an eighth European Tour title and delight the home fans at the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player around the Pilanesberg Course.
The result put paid to an incredulous 10 year wait for a South African winner of the event since Trevor Immelman’s triumph back in 2007 and moved Grace into the top ten on the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex.
The seventh Rolex Series event of the season brought an elite field to the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City and they did not disappoint, with the final group of Grace, Victor Dubuisson and Scott Jamieson producing an enthralling final-day battle.
The trio shared the lead with four holes to play but a brilliant 40 foot birdie putt on the 16th moved Grace to 11 under par and handed him a one-shot victory over Scotsman Jamieson, who moved up from 75th to 23rd position on the Race to Dubai to book his place at the season ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
“This is awesome. 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, an ecstatic Grace told an appreciative crowd numbering the likes of legend, Gary Player [of whom somebody cheekily re-nicknamed, the White Knight, owing to the all-white outfit he had on], Justice Dikgang Moseneke, Sun International’s Mohammed Valli Moosa, former Prasa board chairperson Popo Molefe, Dr Jabu Mabuza, amongst others.
Mango Groove provided entertainment for guests around the pool area as kids soaked in the sun and elders kept their plastic glasses full with forbidden waters.
In an enviable space, the man who also revealed to the gallery that he had learnt in the lead up to his victory that he was going to father a son, continued, “I hit the ball superbly and gave myself some chances. I didn’t take all of them, but I did what I needed to do. It was great to finish the way I did, and bogey-free. It was great to be able to pull it off. It was tough. Scott and Victor played great.
They were quite a bit in front of me, two and three shots starting the day. On the first, we both hit it to four or five feet and I thought, geez, these guys are keen to get it going. I knew I needed to stay patient, and I managed to do that.”
Dubuisson of France also did enough to seal a place in next week’s 60-player field, finishing at nine under par, two shots clear of China’s Li Haotong – who produced the lowest round of the week with a 64 – and three ahead of two-time Major Championship winner Martin Kaymer of Germany.
South Africa’s Darren Fichardt and Lee Westwood of England finished at five under par, a shot clear of Louis Oosthuizen and Matthew Fiitzpatrick.
Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood finished in a tie for tenth place at three under par, alongside fellow Englishman Graeme Storm.
With his total now at 4,235,987 points, he heads to the final event of the season knowing that only Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia can deny him being crowned European Number One.
“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 don’t feel anxious. I just think it’s great that I’ve got the chance to win it, and a good chance. As much as it depends on what they do, it is in my hands. I can take it out of everybody’s hands, but we’ll see,” assessed Fleetwood.
“Coming down the back nine when I didn’t have a chance to win and kind of scrapping for my life on a few holes and a few shots, you do know every shot counts. It’s great to be in this position. Great to sort of be testing myself and what I can do mentally and my game. But yeah, it’s been a really good week”, he ventured further.
Second placed Scotsman, Scott Jamieson said, “Obviously I’m disappointed. I got off to a nice start and things were looking good. Then I had a little blip on number eight. Branden got off to a fast start. All three of us were going along nicely there. On 16, perhaps if my chip had gone in, it might have been a different story.
“I’m sure I’ll look back and take great pride. I played with some of the best players in the world this week and proved that I can compete with them. So hopefully I can take something out of it.
“The goal coming here was to try and get into Dubai. I kind of needed really top eight or something to do that. Second’s pretty good.”
Germany’s Martin Kaymer was quoted thus: “The first nine, I didn’t really use. I lost two shots on two and five. That really killed the momentum of trying to win the golf tournament. Then it was more about trying to finish maybe in the top five, top three. Then all of a sudden I had four birdies in a row, and I thought, maybe, if you give yourself chances coming in, maybe there’s a chance to play for the win here. But it wasn’t meant to be.
“I always enjoy it because I’ve done well here in the past and I usually do well here. I like the crowds. They are really on my side. I get a lot of support.
“Now it’s just about resting for the next two, three days, and then obviously it’s a very, very big week for us in terms of Ryder Cup points for next year.”
Additional reporting by Sydney Morweng -news editor.