Sun Shines on Amazing Grace as He Storms to Nedbank Title
BRANDEN GRACE produced a grandstand finish to win the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City, pocketing a cool £750,000 in the process. The home crowd were desperate to see a South African winner and Grace duly delivered to collect his eighth European Tour title.
The 29-year-old hit every green in regulation on his way to a final round of 66 and a 72-hole total of 277, 11 under par, as storm clouds gathered overhead. It could have been even better as he burned the edge of several holes.
Grace had given the fans gave plenty to cheer about on the front nine as he picked up three birdies to make the turn in 33. At eight under, he trailed by a shot, and he produced some glorious golf on the back nine to pip Scotland's Scott Jamieson by one and Victor Dubuisson by two, both of whom did enough to qualify for next week's Dubai World Championship.
So what is it about November that seems to suit Dubuisson so much? By his own admission, he has fumbled and stumbled his way through the season, as he has done in the past. But then the season's end comes along and he comes to life. He has twice won the Turkish Airlines Open in November and last year produced his best performance of the season at the Dubai World Championship.
And here he was again, bursting back to life in sensational style and looking once again like the man who qualified for the European Ryder Cup team back in 2014, when he starred at Gleneagles. Two birdies and seven pars took him to the turn in 34 and, at nine under, he led Grace and Jamieson by one.
Jamieson, looking for his first win in five years and for a victory that would change his life, made a serene start and extended his lead but then came a double-bogey at the eighth and suddenly he was trailing Dubuisson by a shot. With successive par fives to come, he needed to come back in a hurry. He struck a majestic drive at the ninth but, inexplicably, chose to lay up with his second and walked off the hole with a par, trailing bye one.
Th big move of the day was made by the young Chinese sensation Li Haotong, who birdied the first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth to turn in 30 and then added further birdies at the 12th and 14th to move to eight under par for his round. At seven under par, he was only two adrift of Dubuisson. When you think of the Chinese you think of inscrutable individuals. Not Li. He wears his heart on his sleeve and he lives every shot he plays, chuntering away in English as the ball is on flight.
There was also a welcome return to some kind of form for Germany's double major champion Martin Kaymer. He has had a wretched time of it but, finally, he seems to be coming back to his best. When he dropped shots at the second and fifth holes it looked like it was going to be another one of those days, but he birdied the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th holes to join Li on seven under. He would eventually finish in fifth place on six under.
All of a sudden, things were bubbling up rather nicely. It was a stunning day, with the sun beating down and temperatures exceeding 90F. Thankfully, there was a gentle breeze to take the edge off the heat as the field tackled this stunning - and extremely difficult - golf course.
The putt. The celebration. The roar.
Grace's birdie at 16 had everything ? pic.twitter.com/ezpRbXSaNd — The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 12, 2017
Dubuisson, Jamieson and Grace were all playing together in the final threeball, while Li was six holes ahead and had the opportunity to set a target they would find impossible to catch, but the 22-year-old, who finished third at The Open in July after a final round of 63, ran out of holes in the end. He hit a stunning approach to the final green but missed the putt and had to settle for a final round of 64, the best of the week. At seven under par, he was the clubhouse leader and was left to rue his second round of 77.
The par-five 10th is the easiest hole on the course and Jmaieson got his round back on track with a birdie to take him back to nine under. Dubuisson matched him to maintain his one-stroke advantage at 10 under par and, seconds later, Grace also birdied the hole to join Jamieson in nine under.
At 227 yards, the par-three 12th hole is the most difficult on the course, with players dropping shots like confetti as they tried to find the green, but the final group all managed to hit the dance floor. Grace hit a stunning iron to 10 feet, while Jamieson left himself a 70ft putt. Dubuisson also found the surface, about 35 feet from the hole. It looked like it could be a turning point, but all three parred the hole. As you were, and, barring something quite extraordinary, the winner was going to come from the final group.
Grace hit another top-quality approach at the 13th but, once again, failed to convert and had to settle for par. Dubuisson dropped a shot at the 15th to fall back to nine under. Jamieson hit a shocking shot at the par-three 16th, his ball hitting the roof of the hospitality stand and bouncing back into play. He nearly holed his pitch and walked off the green with an unbelievable par. But he lost a stroke on Grace, who holed a long birdie putt to go to 11 under and send the crowd wild.
What an awesome week!Words cant describe how this win means to me,winning an event like #NGC2017 in ???????? is extra special!! Thanks to everyone— Branden Grace (@BrandenGrace) November 12, 2017
Grace led Jamieson by one and Dubuisson by two and parred the final holes to claim the title.
There was a heartening performance for Lee Westwood, who finished in a tie for sixth place after closing with a 69. Tommy Fleetwood maintains his lead in the Race to Dubai after finishing on three under. And so the top 60 players head to the season-ending Dubai World Championship, with Fleetwood knowing that if he can finish ahead of Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia then he will end the year as Europe's number one.
"I don't want to think about it," said Fleetwood. "If I thought about all the permutations then it would do my head in. All I know is that it is in my own hands in Dubai and I really want to win the Race to Dubai. If I play well enough next week then I will do it."
EUROPEAN TOUR QUALIFYING SCHOOL
While the stars of the European Tour prepare to play for huge rewards in Dubai, those hoping to join them next season are battling it out over six rounds at the European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage at Lumine Golf Club in Tarragona.
Tom Murray needed only 29 shots over his back nine holes as a second round of 63 took him into a share of thelead with Andrea Pavan, with 72 holes still to play. The Englishman arrived with the pressure off, knowing that only a top ten this week could improve the European Tour category he has already gained from his Challenge Tour achievements in 2017.
And his nine under par round came on the Hills Course, following his opening one under par round of 70 on the Lakes Course. He was delighted afterwards. “A few putts went in and I just seemed to get it up and down when I needed to, it was just one of those good days," he said "It’s such a long week that you have to be boring and take it day by day and not do anything dramatic – that said, I do realise today was quite dramatic! You don’t expect to shoot 63 so that was nice.
“We’re all here for the same reason. The end of the year on the Challenge Tour didn’t quite go as planned but I flew my coach out to Oman for last week’s Grand Final and I played pretty well and felt like it’s been coming."
Pavan, meanwhile, has been the star of the last week of Q-School, jointly winning the Second Stage tournament at Panoramica before carrying that form to Lumine, with his 68 on the Hills Course taking him alongside Murray on ten under par overall.
The Italian, a four-time winner on the Challenge Tour as well as a past rankings winner, has struggled to find his best form this year but has looked back to his best in Spain, going bogey-free for the first 36 holes at Final Stage to put himself firmly in contention for a return to the European Tour.
“I’ve struggled a lot this year but from September onwards I started to play better and this week I’ve been putting pretty well so that’s helped," he said. “I knew today was going to be a tough day but my game felt good and I know what I’ve got to do, but it wasn’t an easy round – there are some strong holes and you’ve got to hit good shots.
“It’s great not to have made a bogey but there’s going to come a stretch when I’m not playing well – hopefully not, but it’s likely! I’m just going to try not to worry about the outcome and enjoy myself.
“It puts me in a good position now. The last few years on the golf course have been very tough but I think I’ve started playing better lately, my confidence has been boosted a little bit.
“To get back on the European Tour would be a dream. Off the tee is my weakness but it’s getting better and I know that the rest of my game can compare to the guys on the tour so I need to keep improving but I hope I will be ready if I make it.”
Also maintaining his form is Denmark’s Jeff Winther, who shared the top spot with Pavan last week and is only one shot behind after two rounds after his 67 took him to nine under par overall and into third place. Laurie Canter’s round of 64 was the best by any player on the Lakes Course on the second day and took the Englishman into a share of fourth place with compatriot Ben Evans and overnight leader Gary Stal.
With four rounds still to play, much can yet happen.
Patton Kizzire became the latest first-time winner on the PGA Tour with rounds of 66-67 on a marathon Sunday to secure the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, holding off the challenge of Rickie Fowler to win by a single shot. Kizzire, 31, has been knocking on the door for a while and finished on 19 under par to win a tournament that was dogged by thunderstorms on Friday. He opened with a nine-under 62 and putted brilliantly all week.
Fowler birdied the 16th and 17th holes to close within one, but couldn’t make it three in a row on 18 and Kizzire two-putted for par to bring on the mariachi players.
“He earned it out there,” Fowler said. “He played well all day today, 36 holes. Putted really well and made a lot of good putts for birdie and to save some pars, and I know he was thanking his putter there on the 18th green.”
Kizzire came to El Camaleon on the heels of finishing in a tie for fourth at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, and a top-10 finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Now the player who finished 99th in last season’s FedExCup Playoffs, who has never made it to the TOUR Championship, leads the FedExCup standings and has secured his place at The Masters. “I'm kind of a never-give-up guy,” said Kizzire, who got up and down four times in four chances in the final round. I've really tried to stay the course and believe in myself. It seemed a long way at the point when I was on the Hooters Tour, but now it's just part of the whole process.”
Kevin Sutherland won the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship and, with it, topped the year-long competition to earn the Schwab Cup - even though Bernhard Langer won seven times in a memorable year.
Sutherland closed with a 5-under 66 for a one-stroke victory over Vijay Singh and Lee Janzen at Phoenix Country Club, “I don't even know. It's like a whirlwind thing. It's amazing," Sutherland said. "I mean, the names on this trophy are incredible. I've seen it, and to be on that list is just, I can't even put words to it, it's just amazing.”
Bernhard Langer, the winner of the first two Schwab Cup Playoffs events, had a 64 to tie for 12th - five strokes back. Langer slipped to second in the points standings, missing a chance to win the Schwab Cup for the fourth straight year and fifth overall.
Sutherland, 53, won for the first time in 78 starts on the Champions Tour. He entered the week fifth in the points standings, the last spot where the player had to only win the tournament to take the $1m bonus. He also earned $440,000 for the tournament victory.
Sutherland had 15 top-10 finishes this season, finishing second three times and third twice. “I played really well all year and I just couldn't find a way to get a win. So, to win this tournament, it's unbelievable. I'm sure in a couple days it will sink in a little bit, but right now it just seems like I'm not even sure it really happened, I keep pinching myself. It feels good and it's been a long time since I won a tournament.”
Sutherland finished at 15-under 198. He had a bogey-free round, opening with a birdie on the par-five first, an eagle at the par-five seventh, adding birdies on the par-4 ninth and 16th.
Singh shot a 63. He opened with an eagle and birdied the last two.
John Daly (65), David Frost (67), David Toms (67) and Lee Janzen (67) tied for third at 13 under. “I love old, traditional golf courses," Daly said. "I know this is one if you hit the fairways, you know you can score well on, and if you don't, you're not.”
Langer won three of the five senior majors in 2017 and set an earnings record with $3,677,359, but the 60-year-old German has never won the season-ending event. “I have to pinch myself," Langer said. "Just got to be really grateful and thankful.”
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