Grace storms back into contention at SA Open
You can’t keep a good man down. Not that Branden Grace had to dust himself down from the ashes here on Saturday.
Grace showed why he is the bookies’ favourite when he played himself back into contention in the third round of the SA Open.
Grace who was joint leader after the first round produced an underwhelming 71 in the second as he lost ground on Friday, but yesterday he was back in the groove as he compiled an impressive six-under 66.
His 14-under par total left him one shot behind England’s Chris Paisley who fashioned a steady round of 70.
Grace who sagely reminded: ‘my bad round was still under par’ on Friday, had hoped to be in a position to launch a challenge on day three.
He did that, breathing heavily down Paisley’s neck as the shadows lengthened here yesterday. The only blemish on Grace’s card came on the par-four ninth.
France’s Adrien Saddier who also held a share of the lead after the second round fell back following his round of 73 which left him three shots off the pace along with American Chase Koepka and South Africa’s Jacques Blaauw.
Armed with a new driver and having rid himself of the late December rust, South Africa’s Darren Fichardt proved the biggest mover of the day. He proved particularly productive on the back nine en route to an eight-under par 64.
He is four shots off the pace and yesterday lamented missed opportunities in the first two rounds. “I counted with my caddie after the second round that I threw away six shots that I never would have done if I was midway through the season.
“I have been hitting it well on the range but poorly in the first two rounds. My caddie just said: ‘Don’t over exaggerate. Just aim a little left, not far left’.”
A new driver tailored to his swing also proved reassuring. “Now those bunkers that were in play aren’t in play anymore. The course has widened up for me and it feels like every hole is a birdie hole,” he declared boldly.
Fichardt had hoped he would not be too far back by the conclusion of the third round.
“The guys aren’t moving much and they want to give themselves into a good position. I don’t think a lot of guys will be aggressive apart from Branden (Grace) and Charl (Schwartzel).
Another South African with similar intentions was Retief Goosen but he ended up toying with adoring fans emotions over the last two rounds. The former US Open champion has lurked in the shadows since recording his last tour wins either side of the Atlantic in 2009.
Over the last two rounds he has momentarily basked in the Highveld sun but he hasn’t sustained his challenge for long enough to rank among the leaders going into the final round.
His iron play in particular, was from the top drawer on the outward nine but a tendency to miss the fairway on the right, left him scrambling. He was to the right of the fairway on the fifth and was forced to chip back to safety and had to settle for bogey.
On the seventh he again found the rough and was left with a tricky approach, involving overhanging branches and trees further down potentially inhibiting safe passage path to the green.
Despite clipping a few leaves on the way up, his ball found the green but he failed to convert a reasonable opportunity for birdie.
He had played himself to within three shots of the lead when an inward 39 put paid to his challenge.