SUN CITY – “Just awesome and definitely one of the biggest victories of my career” is how Branden Grace described his feelings just moments after winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge here at the Gary Player Country Club on Sunday afternoon.
The 29-year-old shot a stunning six-under 66 for a score of 11-under par to win by a stroke for his first European Tour title this year and eighth on tour since 2012.
“It’s awesome... it’s the one event as a young South African that you really want to win,” he said after going around the Pilanesberg layout bogey-free for the first time this week.
He earlier recorded rounds of 68, 75 and 68.
“This is Africa’s Major, it’s a special place with a lot of history. There are some great names on that trophy and I’m glad I’ve been able to get my name on it, too.”
Leader after the third round, Scott Jamieson, finished second on his own after a two-under 70, for a score of 10-under par, while France’s Victor Dubuisson was third after also posting a 70 for a nine-under par score.
Grace was outstanding off the tee, never getting into trouble, and he was deadly with his approaches, hitting all 18 greens in regulation.
He said after his third round on Saturday he needed to make a solid start on the front nine to give himself a chance and he did just that with three birdies before the turn.
He then added a fourth at the par-four 10th before making further birdies at the par-five 14th and par-three 16th; the latter a big turning point after he rolled in the 50-foot putt.
“I said to (caddie) Zack Rashego at the start of the round, I felt if I was able to go bogey-free, I’d be in with a chance.
“I did that (overcoming a deficit of three shots after the third round). I hit the ball so well, gave myself chances, and took some. It’s just great to pull it off.”
There were a few nervy moments during the middle part of his round when his putter went cold and he failed to take advantage after hitting it close on several greens.
“I had to stay patient,” said Grace. “I knew the birdies would come.
“The good thing was I was hitting it closer than they were (Jamieson and Dubuisson). Most of them were good putts; the one on 16 was special.”
Having once again come out on top of another star-studded field, Grace will hope for more good things at the tour finale in Dubai later this week, and in the Majors next year.
“This is definitely one of my biggest wins and knowing I needed my best to get it done and then doing it was good,” he said. “I know now I can do it again.
“It was a harsh weekend for South African sports fans (with Bafana Bafana and the Springboks losing), but luckily as it turned out, I’ve now put a smile on a couple of faces.”
Grace became the first South African in 10 years to win the tournament after Trevor Immelman triumphed here in 2007.
China’s Li Haotong finished fourth after making eight birdies in a blemish-free round of 64 – the lowest of the week – for a score of seven-under par.
Sadly, the rest of the South African challenge faded on the final day, with lucky last-in-man Darren Fichardt finishing strongest of the local contingent.
He shot a final-round 68, which included five birdies and a bogey to be at five-under overall and a tied-sixth finish.
Louis Oosthuizen finished tied-eighth, after a final round 70 for a four-under score, while Haydn Porteous and Charl Schwartzel were tied-12th, two-under-par, after shooting 73 and 72 respectively.