Sat, Jan 13, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Grace on course for back-to-back wins


Branden Grace on Thursday launched his bid for back-to-back European Tour victories on home soil by firing a lead-sharing 65 in the South African Open Championship at Glendower Golf Club near Johannesburg.

The 29-year-old eight-time winner on the circuit won the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City two months ago, his last appearance on the tour.

Grace, who is ranked No. 30 in the world, shares first place at seven-under with American Chase Koepka, a brother of reigning US Open champion Brooks Koepka, who lies 306 places lower on the rankings.

They lead Chris Paisley of England by one stroke after a day that brought relief to officials as predicted seasonal electrical storms did not arrive.

Of the five former major winners in the field, South Africans Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel did best with 69s.

Compatriot Ernie Els fired a 71, Canadian Mike Weir a 73 and Trevor Immelman of South Africa a 79 over the par-72, 7,594-yard course.

Defending champion Graeme Storm of England, who pipped golf superstar Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland in a playoff last year to win the second-oldest national championship after The Open, carded a 75.

South African Grace had a haywire front nine that included two eagles, two birdies and two bogeys.

A far more settled back nine produced a birdie and another eagle, a record third for Grace in a European Tour round.

Chase Koepka matched Grace with halves of 32 and 33 as he recovered from bogeying the first hole of each nine.

He eagled the second, then birdied three of four holes from the fifth and four of five from the 12th.

Paisley, the clubhouse leader for much of an opening round played in warm, partly cloudy conditions, birdied seven holes and bogeyed one.

Four consecutive birdies from the 10th lifted Schwartzel’s round, while the card of four-time Major winner Els was stained by successive bogeys at par-fours.

Weir, whose 2003 US Masters triumph was the first by a Canadian and a left-hander, finished one over after a double-bogey six at the 12th hole.

Another former Masters champion, Immelman, who has been struggling for a while, bogeyed five holes before a double-bogey on 18 completed a round to forget.

Jamie Donaldson of Wales scored the first hole-in-one of the tournament at the 14th with a nine iron during a round of 70.

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