Sunday, January 22, 2012

AMAZING GRACE! Branden beats Els, Goosen in Volvo Champions play-off

South African Branden Grace became the first player since Fred Couples in 1995 to follow his first European Tour win with another with victory at the Volvo Golf Champions.
A week after capturing his first European Tour title, 23-year-old Grace, pictured by courtesy of Getty Images (c),  beat two of his boyhood heroes in Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a play-off today.
Amazing Grace indeed - he came through The European Tour Qualifying School only a month ago and did not even have a place in the 35-man winners-only field until he lifted last week's Joburg Open.
Els and Goosen were left as joint runners-up seven years after they left the rest for dead on The Links at Fancourt course in the South African Open, Goosen winning by a shot on that occasion.
"I'm really ecstatic," said Grace after his two-putt birdie at the first extra hole.
"It's a dream come true to win such a big event - pretty much the best tournament I've played in so far."
He was 258th in the Official World Golf Ranking little over a week ago, but now moves inside the top 100.
With Europe's Ryder Cup captain José María Olazábal dropping back to sixth after sharing the lead early in the final round and Padraig Harrington falling away to joint 10th, Grace could easily have won the event in regulation play.
But missing a birdie chance of under five feet on the last left him with a two under par 71 and put him alongside Els and Goosen on 12 under.
They had shot 67 and 70 respectively, Els sinking an 18 foot eagle putt on the 13th and then almost chipping in for another at the last, while Goosen also eagled the 13th and birdied three of the last four.
Grace had fallen four behind when he double-bogeyed the third and bogeyed the fourth, but he covered the remaining 14 holes in five under to prove himself made of stern stuff.
He then hit the longest drive when the trio returned to the 549 yard 18th for sudden death and, with Els driving into the rough and Goosen pushing his second, was the only one on the green in two.
Els hit his third to 18 feet and Goosen's chip stopped on the ridge 30 feet short of the hole.
Grace, though, rolled his long first putt down to three feet and made no mistake after his rivals had both missed.
Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts was also tied for the lead with one to play, but hit a wild drive and with a bogey 6 had to settle for fourth place, while Masters Tournament champion Charl Schwartzel finished two back as seven Major Champions finished in the top ten.
At least Els is now closer to returning to the Official World Golf Ranking's top 50, which he needs to do in the next two months to secure a place in The Masters Tournament, but Harrington's 76 means he still has a lot of work to do to get back into the top 64 in time for next month's World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play.
Els said: "A couple more putts here and there and that could have been something special.
"It's a very encouraging week, all four rounds under par, and I'm working on some good stuff."
Olazábal, at 596th in the Official World Golf Ranking the lowest-ranked player taking part, said: "The only weak part was my driver. The rest of the game has been pretty good.
"At certain moments in the round it looked a little bit like the old days."
+Not only did three South Africans contest the play-off, in all there were six South Africans in the leading nine finishers.

Paul Lawrie finished T10 on four-under-par 292. Third and fourth-round 74s (one over par) killed his hopes of mounting a title challenge but, considering it was his first tournament of the year, it was a creditable start to his 2012 campaign and, of those chasing Ryder Cup points, only Nicolas Colsaerts and Raphael Jacquelin finished ahead of him (skipper Jose Maria Olazabal says he won't play against the Americans).
Paul bogeyed the short second , birdied the long fifth and par-4 sixth before bogeying the long ninth to be out in level par 36. He dropped shots at the short 11th and par-4 14th before getting back to one-over-par by birdeing the long 18th.
Lawrie won 47,050 Euros.
In his blog for his own website, Paul wrote:

"I had a bit of everything today and eventually ended up with a 74 (+1). I drove the ball very well again but my irons were a little poor. Overall it has been pretty good for my first week of the year. I stay here tonight then fly to Abu Dhabi tomorrow via Joburg."
Colin Montgomerie finished with a 75 for 31st place on 300. He earned 25,500 Euros.

Par 292 (4x73). Prizemoney in Euros.
Players from South Africa unless otherwise stated
280 Branden Grace 68 66 75 71, Ernie Els 71 71 71 67, Retief Goosen 72 68 70 70. Grace (350,000) beat Els (177,500) and Goosen (177,500) at first hole of a sudden death play-off.
281 Nicolas Colsaerts (Belgium) 64 76 69 72 (110,000).
282 Charl Schwartzel 75 67 88 72 (93,000).
284 Jose Maria Olazabal (Spain) 71 68 72 73 (80,000).
286 Raphael Jacquelin (France) 71 69 77 69, Louis Oosthuizen 69 71  71 74 (65,000 each).
287 Thomas Aiken 68 70 77 72 (53,000).
288 Padraig Harrington (Ireland) 69 73 70 76, Paul Lawrie (Scotland) 72 68 74 74 (47,050).
289 Oliver Fisher (England) 77 72 69 72, Robert Karlsson (Sweden) 74 70 72 73, Robert Rock (England) 73 70 79 67, Lee Slattery (England) 73 65 77 74.
Selected score:
300 Colin Montgomerie (Scotland) 70 75 80 75 (31st) (25,500).





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