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Six birdies places Grace in Wentworth title hunt

Golf

VIRGINIA WATER, England – South African Branden Grace, who caused controversy earlier this week over a free drop he took from a bunker, climbed to within a stroke of the lead after the BMW PGA Championship third round on Saturday.

On a difficult day for scoring, especially on tree-lined Wentworth’s front nine, as fresh winds gusted up to 20mph, Grace carded a 2-under 70 to claim second place behind surprise leader Andrew Dodt of Australia (68).

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Branden Grace lines up a putt on the 16th during the third round. Photo: Andrew Boyers, Action Images via Reuters

There were huge roars from the sizeable crowds surrounding the 18th green when home favourite Lee Westwood, bidding to win the title for the first time on his 24th appearance in the European Tour’s flagship event, grabbed his third birdie in a row.

The 44-year-old Englishman’s sparkling run helped him complete a 72 and elevated him to joint third along with Italian Francesco Molinari (74), three shots behind Dodt.

On Thursday, Grace’s ball was plugged on an awkward up-slope in a greenside bunker at the par-four 13th hole. He summoned a rules official, saying his feet were touching rubber at the base of the sand, and the World No 26 was given a free drop.

Last year’s US Masters winner Danny Willett said on his Twitter account: [email protected] please explain that drop?! Burying feet enough in to get to the base of the bunker”.

Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley was also less than pleased, saying: “If you twist your feet enough, you’re bound to eventually reach the bunker lining”.

Grace responded by saying that he simply played by the rules.

“It is something that brought attention to a lot of guys out there who maybe didn’t know about that rule, but now they know,” he said after posting a 7-under aggregate of 209 on Saturday.

“Some guys are going to love it and some guys are going to hate it. That’s always the game. I can only ask the question and he gave me relief.”

Helped by his low ball-flight, Grace picked up six birdies in his round, including a stunning sequence of four in five holes from the 10th.

South Africa's Branden Grace talks to a rules official on the 18th hole on Saturday. Photo: Andrew Boyers, Reuters


Dodt, twice a winner on the tour, also took advantage of the prevailing breezes on the back nine as he rattled off birdies at the 11th, 12th, 14th and 17th.

World No 5 Henrik Stenson, the highest-ranked player in the field, needs a barrage of final-round birdies to get into contention after he returned a 73 for 212.

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