Branden Grace won four events on the European Tour last year. Image courtesy of heraldsun.com.au
It has been just over 50 years since Gary Player became the first South African to win one of golf’s majors. Since then, six others have had their name carved on one of the four major trophies in world golf, but you wouldn’t bet against a young man named Branden Grace adding his name to that illustrious list after a phenomenal start on the European Tour last year.
Grace heads in to unchartered territory this week, defending a title for the first time at the Volvo Golf Champions event in Durban. Last year he lifted the trophy after beating compatriots and major winners Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a playoff. This year he’ll have to beat those two veterans, as well as another South African, former British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen , who finished tied for 7th in this event in 2012. Grace had the advantage of playing on his home course in George last time around, but in 2013 the event will be played at the Durban Country Club.
This is just the third renewal of the tournament, with Englishman Paul Casey winning in 2011 when it was held in Bahrain. Swede Henrik Stenson finished last year strongly when he won the South African Open Championship in mid-November. The Durban Country Club has held that event a record seventeen times, and Els has a very good record there having won the SA Open at the course twice in 2010 and 1997.
Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts finished outright fourth in the 2012 Champions event, after starting the final day tied with Grace as they held a one-shot lead over the field. He only missed the playoff by a single stroke, but he has a surprisingly modest winning record for such a talented player. He has triumphed just twice on the European Tour, and only one of those wins – the 2011 China Open – was in a stroke event.
The dark horse in the field could be Scotsman Scott Jamieson . He won the Nelson Mandela Championship at the end of 2012, then followed that up with second placing behind a dominant Charl Schwartzel at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in mid-December. Both events were in South Africa, so he is obviously enjoying the warmer climes of the Southern Hemisphere. He had a promising end to the 2012 European Tour, tying for 14th in the World Tour Championship in Dubai, while also finishing tied for 5th at the Perth International in October.
The course is known for its undulating fairways, as well as its proximity to the Indian Ocean. If the wind picks up, then players who are accurate off the tee will likely succeed hitting to narrow fairways, especially on the course’s early holes.
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