Getting his wedge shots close was all that was missing from Branden Grace’s game as the runner-up in last season’s South African Open shot a decent five-under-par 66 in the first round at Randpark Golf Club on Thursday.
That left Grace in a tie for eighth place, four shots behind compatriot and great mate Louis Oosthuizen, who roared around the same Bushwillow course in a nine-under-par 62, while Kurt Kitayama shot a 63 on the longer Firethorn layout.
“It was a good way to start, three mates [compatriots Justin Harding and Dean Burmester were the other golfers in his three-ball] playing out there on a nice morning. I played good, solid golf, I drove the ball decently and I putted really nicely. I just had the one soft bogey on the par-four ninth.
“But I still felt I left a couple of birdies out there because some of my wedges weren’t good. My wedge game was just a bit off, and then you try and force the ball close. So there’s definitely room for improvement in that department. But overall I’m pleased, Bushwillow is the fiddlier of the two courses and you have to really place the ball there,” Grace said after his round.
On a hot day in Johannesburg, a blustery wind sometimes blew, which is something Grace, who hails from George, said he was not used to on the Highveld.
“It blew quite a bit today, that’s something different for Joburg. It’s the first time I’ve played here at Randpark and the courses are so tree-lined that sometimes the wind is hitting you a lot and then lots of times it’s not hitting you at all. You could be aggressive on a couple of holes, but if you’re too aggressive it will backfire on you,” Grace said.
For Oosthuizen, the highest-ranked golfer in the field, the first round was something of a breeze and not much seemed to bother the typically serene former Open champion.
“Any time you shoot nine-under it feels nice, but it was one of those rounds where you don’t look at the score, you just play. I drove the ball really well and gave myself good opportunities to hit the ball really close, and then birdie after birdie just seemed to come. There’s still a long way to go, but now I can just focus on the Firethorn course for the next three rounds,” Oosthuizen said.