Branden Grace (Getty Images)
South African Branden Grace has been named The Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Month for January following an explosive start to 2012 in which he claimed back-to-back victories in his homeland.
The 23 year old finished one shot clear of his fellow Qualifying School graduate Jamie Elson of England for his breakthrough European Tour victory in the Joburg Open.
That win in Johannesburg secured him a place in the Volvo Golf Champions at The Links at Fancourt, near his home in George, which Grace duly went on to win in dramatic fashion, defeating Major Champions Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a play-off.
Grace tied with his fellow South Africans on 12 under par 280 before claiming the title with a birdie on the first extra hole, becoming only the fourth Qualifying School graduate to record multiple victories the season after securing a European Tour card.
The two consecutive wins moved Grace up from 258th position in the Official World Golf Ranking to 93rd, and into first place in The Race to Dubai.
Grace was chosen for the Golfer of the Month Award by a panel comprising members of the golfing media, ahead of Englishman Robert Rock, who held off the challenge of Major Champions Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Panel member Peter Dixon, Golf Correspondent of The Times, said: “It was a fantastic start to The European Tour season, and a very close run contest for the first Race to Dubai Golfer of the Month for 2012.
“Robert Rock’s performance in holding off Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods will live long in the memory. It was a truly marvellous performance. But Branden Grace’s back-to-back victories were very impressive, particularly considering he had come through the Qualifying School only a few weeks earlier. Most impressive was the way he dominated the play-off against two of the game’s giants in the second of his wins and that takes some beating.”
The 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen’s performance in winning the season-opening Africa Open was also recognised by the panel.
However, it is his compatriot Grace who receives the first monthly award of 2012, meaning he will join the subsequent monthly winners as contenders for The Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Year, which was won in 2011 by Englishman Luke Donald.