Branden Grace roars back to keep treble chase on

Branden Grace roars back to keep treble chase on

Back in the groove: Branden Grace. (Photo by Luke Walker/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images)

The Sun City champion can thank the wise words of his caddie and wife, Nieke, for inspiring him at the SA Open.

Both Branden Grace and Jacques Blaauw roared up the South African Open leaderboard on Saturday with high quality rounds of six-under-par 66, both saying their energy had been refreshed as they closed in on leader Chris Paisley on a hot day at Glendower Golf Club.

Paisley was solid if unspectacular as he shot a 70 to move to 15-under-par, but he is just one shot ahead of a late-charging Grace heading into the final round, and three ahead of Blaauw and two other golfers on 12-under, American Chase Koepka and Frenchman Adrien Saddier.

But Grace and Blaauw needed rejuvenation after slumps of vastly different time-frames.

Grace shot out of the blocks in the first round with a 65, for a share of the lead, but then felt frustrated in the second round when he shot a 71, with just two birdies, to slip down into a tie for fourth place.

And he struggled through his first 10 holes on Saturday in just one-under-par before some inspirational words from his caddie and wife Nieke saw everything click as he collected five birdies in his last eight holes.

“It was pretty frustrating and I got a bit irritated because I thought I hit the ball superbly but I just couldn’t get the ball in the hole. I could have been eight-under for the round but instead I was six shots back. My putting stroke was maybe a bit quick and I was pushing or pulling the ball.

“But then Zack [Rasego] said I must just stay patient and my wife was on the side of the course and she said one will go in soon. And then I finally did get one on 11 and I just let the adrenaline run and it led to more birdies. On moving day, sometimes you can push too hard, but I just needed one to go in,” Grace said after his round.

For Blaauw, the 66 came as a welcome relief after a whole year of hardship. The 31-year-old spent most of 2017 in the USA, playing on the Tour, but he missed the cut in 19 of the 22 tournaments he played.

“Last year was an unbelievable struggle, only making three cuts in America and not playing so well. Sitting in your hotel room, you just think ‘Man, this is hard work’, but you grow as a golfer because you have to deal with a lot of bad moments, which you have to take on the chin and move on.

“It felt like a job last year but now golf feels like fun again. You’ve just to keep the bad thoughts out of your head and the 66 today was the result of a year of hard work. It’s been a fun journey, and with my son turning one on Wednesday, I’m just enjoying life and golf is no longer number one,” Blaauw said.

The Els Club Copperleaf-based Blaauw has won four times on the Sunshine Tour but has only finished in the top three in Europe on one occasion, when he was the runner-up in the 2015 Tshwane Open after shooting a dazzling 61 in the final round.

“I’ve been in this situation a couple of times and I can’t say I’ve dealt with it too well. But in the final round I just want to make sure I don’t get in my own way, just take it shot for shot and stay in the moment. For South Africans, this is a big event, it’s our major, to get your name on the same trophy as Ernie Els and Gary Player would mean a lot,” Blaauw said.

For Grace, who has won eight times in Europe and once in the USA, it is just a matter of keeping the momentum from his Nedbank Golf Challenge win the last time he played in South Africa, in November.

“In the Nedbank Golf Challenge I was three shots behind and I just tried to stay positive, I wanted to get the margin small today and I’ve managed to play myself right back into it. I’m going to try and run with the momentum from the Nedbank Golf Challenge, be more patient, get things happening and not force anything,” Grace said.


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