Johannesburg – Fresh off winning the Order of Merit Trophy at the Sunshine Tour awards earlier in the week, Branden Grace says he is looking to defend his title at the Joburg Open starting on Thursday.
The co-sanctioned Sunshine and European Tour event at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club is where it all started for Grace in 2012, where he won his first of four European Tour titles.
Grace was pleased to have come away from the awards with the biggest prize, which would provide a timely confidence boost.
“It feels great, it was a great year. It's very special to win your Order of Merit trophy, and nice the hard work is paying off, and to get the recognition for the year I had,” said Grace on Tuesday.
Grace, as defending champion, would have stiff competition from a host of South Africans including George Coetzee, Charl Schwartzel, Thomas Aiken, Richard Sterne and James Barry “Jbe” Kruger.
Coetzee has already produced three top-10 finishes this season, including a share of second place at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters two weeks ago.
Sterne, meanwhile, has two-10s this season with a second place at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic last week.
The 24-year-old Grace, however, was positive about his form, which has seen him rack up the three top-10s himself in 2013.
“I'm feeling good, I played nine holes today on the West. I've got the pro-am tomorrow on the East, but I'm looking forward to it.”
Grace said he was targeting a title defence.
“I've got great memories here. I had a victory here as a junior amateur and then last year. Now I'm just trying to take it to the next level.
“I'm here to do a job, to defend the title as well as I can and maybe try to get the win again.”
The long Johannesburg layout favours the long-hitters and was part of the reason for Grace's success. Grace is currently averaging 294 yards off the tee, which would aid him in navigating the long holes on the course.
“I think a lot of guys really get a little bit down on themselves because it's a long course. I'm quite fortunate that way because I hit it a good distance off the tee and also I'm pretty straight off the tee.”
The tournament featured a number of weather delays in the last few editions, and it is also something Grace feels he would be able to manage.
“All of it this week just depends on how you cope with the weather, there are probably going to be a lot of delays and it's just about the way you handle it and stay patient.
“If you can make a couple of putts, you never know at the end of the week.”
The tournament is the first of three co-sanctioned events in a row in February, including the Africa Open at East London Golf Club next week, and the inaugural Tshwane Open at Copperleaf Golf and Country Estate in Centurion starting on the 28th. – Sapa