Grace flies to Puerto Rico victory on back of an eagle

Feb 28, 2021 | Featured, South Africans abroad

An eagle from a greenside bunker on the par-five 17th on Sunday took Branden Grace into a lead he clung to, and a birdie from another greenside bunker on 18 took him to a victory on the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open at the Grande Reserve Country Club, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

Grace spent the final round in constant pursuit of the lead which was held jointly by American Grayson Murray and local player Rafael Campos. A pair of birdies for the South African on the two par-fives of the opening nine set him up. Another birdie on the 12th took him within one of the lead, which was now held by Jhonattan Vegas of Puerto Rico.

But he burned the edges with a couple of birdie attempts for the next few holes, until he came to the short par-four 17th. “I felt I was aggressive on 17, going for the green,” said Grace. “I’ve been working so many months working so hard and dialling in my wedge game so I don’t need to be aggressive on a hole like that.

“But I felt like I was hitting the driver well. I have a little low stinger with my driver sorted out. I played it really nicely and I was in a good position in the bunker. Every bunker I was in today, I hit a great shot. That one, I played it perfectly. Five or six feet from the hole, I knew it was in.”

He knew how big that moment was. He revved himself up with a very South African “Come on, man!” Pumping his fist, he looked skywards as he remembered his father who died from COVID-19-related complications less than two months back.

“My dad always said I’m an aggressive player,” Grace said through tears afterwards. “He was watching over me and in the end that was enough. I spoke to my mom this morning, and my wife told me beforehand that my dad will give me the guidance I need, and he did.”

Grace, who had slipped to 147th in the Official World Golf Ranking, was conspicuous by his absence from the World Golf Championships event being played at the same time in Florida. The win means a lot for him and will signify the start of a climb in the ranking.

“This changes everything,” he said. “The last couple of weeks, I’ve been playing nicely. I’ve started heading in the right direction. I played well at Pebble Beach, and I was fortunate that Tiger Woods and his team gave me an invitation to play in Los Angeles.

“that gave me a lot of confidence coming into this week. Now, with this win, I can get into a lot of the big stuff and move up in the world rankings. That’s where I want to be – competing against the big boys.”

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