Branden Grace thrilled the local gallery with a back nine 31 that leaves him just one behind leader Chris Paisley heading into Sunday’s final round, writes WADE PRETORIUS at Glendower.
The gap at the start of Saturday between Grace and the Englishman was five, by 16:45 it was just a single stroke.
Moving day can be one of the biggest cliches not only in golf but all of sport but on Saturday the phrase rang especially true. Jacques Blaauw fired a 66, which included three bogeys, to set the clubhouse tally at -12 through 54 holes, one better than fellow South African Darren Fichardt stormed up the leaderboard with a 64 courtesy of a round that included nine birdies.
In total, there are seven players – including Chase Koepka (68 and -12) and overnight co-leader Adrien Saddier (73 and -12) – within five shots of Paisley, who to his credit held firm when the roars coming from a few groups in front of him were audible.
The Englishman was solid but unspectacular en route to his 70 with only one blemish on his card – a bogey 5 on the par 4 16th.
The spectacular was left to the home favourite Branden Grace, even if he was fighting himself as much as the deficit between him and the leaders. Seeking to become the only player to win the Dunhill Links, the Nedbank Golf Challenge and the national championship, a drop on the ninth meant he was treading water while those around him were prospering.
A two-putt par on 10 followed as tension grew in the gallery. The whispers were growing that maybe it would not be Grace’s week. Bunkered off the tee, and some left to follow Retief Goosen a group ahead.
How wrong those few were.
Grace crafted a superb approach and saw his putt drop. His relief was matched by the crowd as tension was released with loud cheers. Out of position on 13, Grace produced another brilliant pitch and even better putt, finally finding his stroke, to pull another shot back.
There were some groans when his birdie try at the short par 3 14th slide by but the roars, now even louder, returned on the next.
The pre-tournament sense of inevitability that Grace would lift the title returned when he made another birdie on 16. The crowd was positively giddy when he rolled in a length birdie, granted after a lucky bounce with an iffy tee shot on 17, as he moved to within one of the lead.
There is a sense of entitlement among the home crowd that a local winner would prevail at Glendower and Grace’s performance on Saturday was key to that sense growing stronger.
It is more than a cause of 18 holes and Chris Paisley standing between him and a famous win but the steel in the 29-year-old’s game is there. He is intent of providing fans with exactly what they want.
Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
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