JOHANNESBURG – Almost two months ago to the day Branden Grace shot a 66 in the final round at Sun City to capture the Nedbank Golf Challenge and on Thursday he was at it again, firing a stunning 65 to grab a share of the lead after the first round of the 107th edition of the BMW SA Open at Glendower.
It was Grace’s first competitive round on home soil since ending an 11-year dry spell for the locals at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, and he’s now set himself up for a proper run at grabbing arguably the biggest title in South African golf later this week.
Grace was in stupendous form on Thursday afternoon, making three birdies and three eagles, to go with two bogeys for a 65, seven-under-par, and sit alongside US golfer Chase Koepka atop the leaderboard. Koepka is the younger brother of 2017 US Open champion and Ryder Cup player Brooks.
The American, who played in the morning, recorded seven birdies and an eagle to go with two bogeys to give himself a chance of winning what would be the biggest title of his career later in the week.
Grace was chuffed with his round, especially three eagles he recorded on the par-five second, eighth and 15th holes.
“It was fun. I don’t think I’ve ever made three eagles in a round so I’m happy,” said the Nedbank Golf Challenge champion. I was a bit rusty with the wedges, but all in all I’m pleased with the round. I got the most out of it, and after having seven weeks off it was good. I’m here to win this week, trying to go as low as I can, so my goal will be to build momentum on Friday and hopefully take it into the weekend.”
Koepka was understandably over the moon with his day’s work.
“Yeah, it was great. I think I played flawless golf, except for the second shot on the first hole. I hit a poor shot there and saved it with a 12-footer for bogey. So, it was a big deal to start off my round, you don’t want to make double on the opening hole ... I then made eagle on the second hole and kept it going from there,” said the 23-year-old.
On a day of good scoring, England’s Chris Paisley fired a six-under-par 66 to be one shot off the leaders, while a further stroke back was a big group of players at five-under-par, including South Africans Erik van Rooyen and Richard Sterne. Alongside them was Bradley Neil of Scotland and Spain’s Nacho Elvira.
Three shots back, at four-under-par after recording 68s, are nine players, among them home-grown amateurs Garrick Higgo and Kyle McClatchie, who both enjoyed good opening rounds to be in with a shout of playing at the weekend.
Other contenders who’ll feel satisfied with their day’s work are Haydn Porteous, Retief Goosen, Trevor Fischer Jnr, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Charl Schwartzel, who all posted 69s.
It was not all good going though. Former champion Brandon Stone signed for a 75, as did defending champion Graeme Storm, while Thomas Aiken and Dean Burmester had to be happy with five-over-par 77s. Former Masters champion and two-time SA Open winner Trevor Immelman also had a day to forget; his seven-over-par 79 likely to see him miss out on weekend play.