Branden Grace was making light work of blustery conditions in Bulgaria on Saturday morning, as the South African pulled clear of form-man Brett Rumford during the early stages of the first knockout round at the Volvo World Match Play Championship.
With westerly winds gusting up to 25 miles per hour over the stunning Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort in Kavarna, Grace, who on Friday topped the Ian Woosnam group after a halved match with Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, capitalised on a loose opening drive from Rumford to immediately take a one hole advantage before adding a second birdie of the day at the following par three to double his lead.
Despite a brief slip-up at the monstrous 692-yard fourth that saw the Australian reduce the deficit to one, Grace then strung three birdies together in succession before a further gain at the ninth saw the George man go five up as the opening tie reached the turn.
Rumford, of course, began the week bidding to make European Tour history as the first to record three successive victories since the late Seve Ballesteros in 1986 after consecutive triumphs in the Ballantine’s Championship and Volvo China Open, but looked to have his work cut out to continue that fine run.
Elsewhere, Francesco Molinari made eagle at the par five fifth and a birdie at the following hole to move four clear of a struggling Carl Pettersson, the Swede having made two bogeys over the opening six holes, while for defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts an opening trio of pars were enough to go three up on Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano as the Spaniard started bogey-bogey-bogey.
Now firmly tournament favourite after match play specialist Ian Poulter was knocked out following the group stages, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell was one up through three holes as the action continued to unfold on Saturday morning.