South African Branden Grace completed a two-shot victory at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Sunday and immediately set his sights on topping the European money list.
It was the fourth win of the season for the 24-year-old European Tour rookie and it lifted him into third place in this year’s Race to Dubai.
He is now only 730,000 euros (US$953,000) behind leader Rory McIlroy and as he accepted his 617,000 euros winners check Grace admitted he is now focused on the beating the world No. 1 to the top honor in European golf.
“I am all for catching Rory,” Grace told reporters after shooting a closing-round 70.
“Someone mentioned the possibility to me a couple of days ago, and then I said: ‘Let’s get this week over with first,’ and I have done that and now I am in third place, first place is definitely in my sights,” Grace said. “With a lot of big money events coming up, 800,000 [euros] is not a lot to make up.”
Furthermore, Grace will be playing more events through the rest of the season than the young Ulsterman.
In the week ahead, McIlroy will be in Turkey with seven of the world’s other top golfers, including Tiger Woods, chasing a US$1.5 million first prize in an exhibition tournament.
Grace will be at the European Tour’s Portugal Masters, where pocketing the 600,000 euros prize would make a huge dent in McIlroy’s lead.
Although Grace took a four-shot lead into the fourth round, his victory, which has lifted him from 265th in the world at the start of the year into the top 40, was not a straightforward procession.
When he dropped shots at the seventh and 11th holes around the Old Course he was caught at the top of the leaderboard by the Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen, who won this year’s Sicilian Open.
After three-putting the 11th green, Grace said he turned to his caddie Zach Razego to help him read the lines of his putts and a run of three birdies from the 12th put him back on the victory trail.
Olesen shot 68 to finish second, with the Swedish pair of Alexander Noren and Joel Sjoholm in third and fourth.
Scot Stephen Gallacher was at one stage poised to challenge for a podium finish.
At the 16th hole he was lying fourth on the leaderboard, but he incurred a two-shot penalty for playing the wrong ball.
Instead of hitting his own ball he played one belonging to Yorkshireman Steve Halsall, who was the amateur playing partner of Englishman Graeme Storm playing in the same group.
Gallacher eventually had a quadruple eight at the hole and had to settle for being part of a seven-way tie for fifth place.