After finding himself paired with 14-time Major Champion Tiger Woods for the third day in succession, Branden Grace stole the limelight in the early stages of Moving Day at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Starting the day two over par for the tournament Grace, who had over the opening two rounds amassed scores of 72 and 70, made a flying start on Saturday with six birdies in his first ten holes before slipping back somewhat due to two bogeys on the final stretch, but the South African was more than happy to embrace the experience of playing with a star of Woods’ ilk.
“I haven't played with him before, but now to play with him three days in a row has been unreal,” said Grace after signing for a four under par 66 that saw him climb into the top 20 at Firestone.
“He's been my idol and my role model since I started playing golf and I've learned a hell of a lot from playing with him: the way he plays shots; the way he handles himself and things like that has been great to see. He's there because he is the best in the world.”
Making his debut at the World Golf Championship in Ohio, Grace has had a whirlwind season since graduating from Qualifying School last December having already accumulated three wins in 2012 – a win total that matches his American playing partner this year – and the Pretoria native was playing some lovely golf in the third round as a hat-trick of birdies around the turn on Firestone’s South Course helped him to six under par for the day before dropped shots at 13 and the long 16th hole.
“I played really good,” said a contented Grace. “I got it going there on the front nine, just every time I had it in the rough I just pictured the right shot, and every time it came off.
“It was nice to roll in a couple of putts, as well, and to go six under through the first nine was the start I had hoped for; I obviously I ran into a couple of errors on the back nine but that's going to happen around this golf course. I'm still happy with the way I played.”
Grace, whose wins this year came at the Joburg Open and Volvo Golf Champions on home soil in January and at the Volvo China Open in April, admitted to some first-tee nerves but reflected on the learning curve he is going through in his fourth professional appearance on American soil.
“The first day was a little bit hectic. Obviously the first time playing with Tiger was an experience of its own but the crowds have been great.
“This golf course, you need to get to know it. Yesterday I played a lot better, I didn't make a birdie or a bogey yesterday, but it was nice to go out there today and know that the birdies were there for the making and I managed to make a couple.”
Woods, who shot a two under par round of 68 on Saturday to get back to level par for the tournament, also reserved praise for his 24 year old counterpart.
“I thought I was playing pretty well through 11 holes but I was getting killed by my playing partner,” Woods commented. “I thought I was playing well, but he was playing better. But it was a good day; we both had good rounds today and it was good to finish up on a positive note.”