Rory McIlroy (left) and Branden Grace talk during a practice round at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia on Tuesday. Photo: EPA/TANNEN MAURY

JOHANNESBURG – Despite a best finish of 18th in five appearances, South Africa’s Branden Grace believes he can challenge for victory at the Masters, at Augusta, starting on Thursday.

“There’s no reason to try play for second. Everyone who is here has won events, and there are a lot of great players here. But I want to win this thing,” Grace told SuperSport.

“If you come here and try to win and try and finish second or third you’ll be happy, but if you say you can’t win and just try to get a top-10 you’ll never get anywhere. I feel I’ve given myself some chances in the Majors, and I feel the putting is something that is really giving me that little bit extra to help me get over the line.”

Grace finished in a tie for 18th in his first trip to Augusta, and three cuts followed from 2014 to 2016 before a share of 27th last year. 

The 29-year-old who usually employs a low left-to-right ball flight, does not have the game that is ideally suited to the layout on the sloping fairways of Augusta. 

However, the eight-time European Tour winner is capable of some phenomenal performances on the greens - the best example of this his 62 in the third round of the Open Championship last year setting the record for the lowest round in men’s major golf history. 

“I’ve focussed quite a lot on my putting this year. I’ve not really putted well coming into this event, but I’m seventh on strokes gained putting on the PGA Tour this year.

“I feel I’ve played well here in the past, but if you can get one or two of those putts to drop early in your round it’s a big confidence-booster and if that happens I can see myself doing well around here.”

Another South African in the field that could contend is Louis Oosthuizen. Since winning the 2010 Open Championship, ‘King Louis’ has completed the ‘major-slam’ of second place finishes in majors with his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship last year. His second place at the Masters in 2012 after losing to American Bubba Watson in a playoff must still sting, and provide that little bit of extra motivation for the sweet-swinging Oosthuizen.

Not to be discounted either will be 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel. The 33-year-old has no form to speak of this season with a best finish of 15th at the SA Open in January. As a former champion though, there’s a chance Schwartzel may find that spark that seems to be missing from his game at the moment.

In contrast, Dylan Frittelli in his Masters debut should be hoping to soak up the experience. At the end of 2016, he was ranked 152nd in the world but steadily improved his ranking to book his spot at the year’s first major by being ranked inside the top-50 in the world. He moved into the golfing elite on the world stage by picking up two European Tour wins last season. 

Frittelli's biggest asset in his strong play has been his mental approach - proclaiming over a year ago that he would make it to the Masters. This week he will likely keep his ambitions to himself, but it would not be surprising to see that man Frittelli inside the top-20 after 72 holes.

The fifth SA player in the field is 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman. He has struggled with his game in recent years as his ranking 1246th in the world indicates, and making the cut will be a bonus for the former world number 12. 

African News Agency (ANA)

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