JOHANNESBURG - Branden Grace lost to a typically brilliant Phil Mickelson shot in a sudden-death play-off for the 2013 Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, and he returns to the tournament hoping that he finds his links golf touch again ahead of next week’s Open Championship.
Mickelson went on to win The Open that year, while Grace finished in a disappointing share of 64th, just a year after his superb breakout season in 2012 when he won four times on the European Tour and vaulted into view as one of the players who fans needed to watch whenever majors were played.
Grace is one of 18 of the world’s top 40 who are teeing it up at Dundonald Links, and he will attempt to become the first South African to win the tournament that has become a favourite among players from all over the world heading into The Open Championship.
Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott are among the many luminaries to join defending champion Alex Noren, and they find themselves amongst a veritable who’s who of the European Tour in the likes of Bernd Wiesberger, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matt Fitzpatrick, Ross Fisher, Martin Kaymer and Jeunghun Wang.
A number of American stars also make the journey as part of their preparation for The Open Championship, with Fowler joined by Matt Kuchar, 2016 Ryder Cup hero Patrick Reed as well as a pair of Major winners in Stewart Cink and Jason Dufner.
Also a Major winner is Grace’s fellow South African Ernie Els.
He’s one of 12 major champions in the field. Besides Cink and Dufner, the others are Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Trevor Immelman, Martin Kaymer, Paul Lawrie, Graeme McDowell, McIlroy, Scott and Stenson.
Other South Africans in the field are Hennie Otto, Dylan Frittelli, Dean Burmester, Darren Fichardt, Brandon Stone, Haydn Porteous, Richard Sterne, George Coetzee, Jaco van Zyl and Thomas Aiken.
Grace has yet to play as well in The Open as he can on links courses. His superb victory in the 2012 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship included a stunning course-record 60 on Kingsbarns.
So a solid performance at Dundonald Links could presage a good week at Royal Birkdale next week.