Grace back where it all began

2/4/2013 12:12:00 PM
Branden Grace   (Getty Images)
Branden Grace (Getty Images)

South African Branden Grace returns to the tournament that sparked his dream 2012 season when he defends his title at this week’s Joburg Open.

Grace captured his maiden European Tour title at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, holding off the challenge of Englishman Jamie Elson by one shot just weeks after earning his card at Qualifying School.

That victory was the catalyst for a remarkable 2012 season in which he won four times on The European Tour, also capturing the Volvo Golf Champions on home soil the following week, the Volvo China Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

The World Number 29 finished in sixth position on The Race to Dubai and he has enjoyed another strong start to the new campaign, heading to Johannesburg on the back of three consecutive top ten finishes in the  Volvo Golf Champions (tied seventh), the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship (fifth) and the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters (tied sixth) .

Grace, who became the most successful Qualifying School graduate in European Tour history, spearheads a strong home challenge in the €1.3million tournament, which is the fourth of six South African events on The 2013 European Tour International Schedule.

He is joined in the field by compatriot Charl Schwartzel, the man who he succeeded as champion. Schwartzel is attempting to win his third Joburg Open, having triumphed in both 2010 and 2011, and the former Masters Champion also returns to his birthplace on the back of three consecutive top ten finishes in European Tour events.  He was fifth at the 2012 SA Open Championship and tied third at the 2012 DP World Tour Championship, Dubai and was then victorious in his only appearance to date this season at the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

Another in-form South African with a strong record at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club is Richard Sterne, who captured the title in 2008 when he defeated compatriot Garth Mulroy and Swede Magnus A Carlsson in a play-off.

Sterne, a five-time winner on The European Tour, finished tied seventh in the Alfred Dunhill Championship and was runner-up to Stephen Gallacher in last week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic, having opened with a superb ten under par 62 in the first round.

Included in the overseas challenge is Chilean Felipe Aguilar, who finished third in Dubai, along with Portugal’s Ricardo Santos and English pair Rock Rock and Steve Webster, all of whom tied for seventh position last week.

The Joburg Open, which is co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour, has the largest field of the season, with 210 players starting the tournament which is being played for the seventh time this year. It is also one of only two events on The European Tour International Schedule – along with the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship - to be played over more than one course, with the players tackling the East and West Course for the first two rounds before the 36 hole cut before completing the final two rounds over the East Course.