Grace surges clear in Scotland

05/10/2012 17:46:38
Branden Grace  (Getty Images)
Branden Grace (Getty Images)
Branden Grace followed his European Tour record-equalling 60 at Kingsbarns with a 67 at St Andrews to take a five shot halfway lead at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

Two clear overnight, the South African – with three European Tour titles already this season – bogeyed the fourth at the Home of Golf.

However, he hit back with five birdies in the next six holes and added another at the last to reach 17 under par ahead of his third round at Carnoustie; statistically the toughest of the three courses used this week.

“As soon as I made the birdie at the fifth I settled down and got things going and the form of yesterday kicked in,” he said. “The putts kept going in and I made three 25 footers which was nice.

“I think the way I’m playing and hitting the ball I’m looking forward to playing Carnoustie. The putter is going and I’m looking forward to it.”

The first of those 25 footers came at the eighth for a second birdie in a row and a two footer at the next completed the hattrick.

A downhill left-to-right putt from 25 feet got the inward half off to a perfect start and after driving the green at the par four last the 24 year old two-putted for a sixth birdie of the round.

Swede Joel Sjöholm matched Grace’s 67 at St Andrews for a 12 under total to share second place with Thorbjørn Olesen.

The Dane completed a three under par 69 at Carnoustie to go with his opening 63 over the Old Course.

When he putted for eagle on the 357 yard last Grace had a chance to match The European Tour's lowest-ever 36-hole total in relation to par, but he happily settled for a two-putt birdie and so the mark set by compatriot Ernie Els at the 2004 Heineken Classic in Australia still stands.

"I just don't really knows what's going on," said the Pretoria golfer, who was outside the world's top 300 less than a year ago, came through Qualifying School and now has a chance of an incredible fifth victory of the season.

The fourth came last Sunday in his home country's winter series and was slightly overshadowed, of course, by Europe's miraculous Ryder Cup comeback.

"A win is a win," he added. "It gives you confidence and puts a fire in you. I'm still just running with it."

Grace was glad the format allowed him to switch courses following his 60.

"It would have been a hard situation if I had to play Kingsbarns again after shooting lights out. Getting to St Andrews I didn't know what to expect.

"I struggling a bit in the beginning, but then my putter started getting hot again."

German Martin Kaymer, the man who sank the all-important putt for José María Olazábal’s side in Chicago, is doing best of the three returning heroes, but he is down in 56th place on three under - 14 strokes adrift.

Swede Peter Hanson is one further back, but Paul Lawrie is joint 129th on one over - and only the top 60 and ties survive the cut after tomorrow's third round.

The one thing in their favour is that they still have St Andrews to play whereas Grace has Carnoustie to come and that is by far the stiffest test of the three.

Also in a fight to stay around for Sunday's closing 18 holes at St Andrews are Open Champion Ernie Els on one under, twice winner Padraig Harrington on level par and last year's Open winner Darren Clarke, who is alongside Lawrie.

The Scot is playing with his 17 year old son Craig and did not mind admitting that the scratch-handicapper outscored him in the second round, albeit off forward tees.

"He played lovely and was four under on his own ball - I'm very proud of him," said the 1999 Open Champion, who had to be content with a two under 70 himself.