Branden Grace enters this week’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai inside the top ten of the Race to Dubai after winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player.
The South African’s eighth career European Tour title saw him move from 34th to ninth place in the rankings with a season tally of 1,069,290 points.
With Justin Rose out of action in South Africa, a win for Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood would have seen him being crowned Europe's Number One with a week to spare.
However Fleetwood’s tied tenth place finish means he extended his advantage over his resurgent fellow countryman Rose to just over 250,000 points going in to the last event of the season, which sees the top 60 players on Tour descend on the Jumeirah Golf Estates’ Earth course for the DP World Tour Championship from Thursday 16 to Sunday 19 November.
Nick Tarratt, Director of the European Tour International Dubai office, said: “The Race to Dubai is set for a thrilling climax at Jumeirah Golf Estates this week with everything still to play for. The course is in fabulous condition and we’re excited to welcome the players to compete in what could be one of the most exciting editions of the DP World Tour Championship yet.”
Grace began the final day at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City trailing overnight leader Scott Jamieson by three shots, however with four holes left, he was part of a three-way tie for the lead with Jamieson and France’s Victor Dubuisson.
Grace broke the deadlock on the par three 16th when he sunk a stunning 40-foot birdie putt to go one ahead of the field, a lead he held on to all the way to the end of the tournament to seal his first Rolex Series victory.
“This is the one event that as a South African you want to win, it's Africa's Major for a reason and what a special place it is,” said Grace, who became the first home winner of the event since Trevor Immelman triumphed in 2007.
“I had to stay patient and I had to take the chances when they came my way. I missed a couple of short ones but I think the big key was the putt on 16."
The event in South Africa marked the final opportunity for those players outside the fabled top 60 in the Race to Dubai rankings to stake their claim for a spot in the DP World Tour Championship field and it proved to be a big week for lone runner-up Jamieson who booked his ticket to Dubai after picking 1,229,655 points to move from 75th to 23rd in the rankings. The Scotsman will now make his fourth appearance at Jumeirah Golf Estates when he tees off on the Earth course on Thursday.
Another man who booked his place in the season-ending finale was Victor Dubuisson. The Frenchman came in to the week in 73rd place in the Race to Dubai rankings but a third place finish in South Africa saw him jump to 38th place in the rankings.
Two South Africans who also ensured they’ll be playing in the season finale later this week are Haydn Porteous and Richard Sterne. The former finished in 12th place at Sun City to move from 65th to 57th in the rankings while Sterne did just enough to break in to the top 60, finishing in 19th place to move from 61st to 60th spot in the Race to Dubai.
Two-time major winner Martin Kaymer and the young Chinese star Haotong Li also made strides up the rankings despite their spots in the Dubai field already being secure prior to the start of the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player. Li finished in fourth place to move to 17th in the rankings while Kaymer’s fifth place finish boosted him from 46th to 35th.
With the penultimate event of the season done and dusted, only Rose and Sergio Garcia are now mathematically close enough to catch Fleetwood at the DP World Tour Championship.
“Playing in the DP World Tour Championship is very, very special and it's something that actually very few people get the chance to do,” said Fleetwood, who has a season-tally in excess of four million points.
“I think to be in with a chance of winning the Race to Dubai, it's pretty special, really. It's not a burden. I don't feel stressed about it, I don't feel anxious. I just think it's great that I've got the chance to win it and a good chance. Hopefully I can come back on Sunday and I've won both, I've won the tournament and the Race to Dubai. That would be great, wouldn't it? It's going to be great next week.”