Louis Oosthuizen held a one-shot lead going into the final day of the South African Open on Sunday and nine times out of 10 his closing round of 68 would have been enough for him to successfully defend his title.
But Oosthuizen could do nothing about Branden Grace, who hit eight birdies and an eagle in a superb 62 to finish three shots ahead and claim the trophy instead of his fellow South African.
Grace had not won on the European Tour since triumphing at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in November 2017 and finished 113th in the Race to Dubai last year, so this was a big return to form for the 31-year-old.
Winning on home soil is always special. Oosthuizen rated his success in December 2018 at the Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg up there with his Major win at the Open Championship in 2010, so that shows the regard the event is held in among home players.
Putting to near-perfection
Grace single-putted nine greens in a row and needed just 22 putts on his nine under-par final round, which is very impressive. But to overturn a four-shot deficit against a player of Oosthuizen’s quality and experience and win such an event you need everything to be almost perfect.
He’s a high calibre player – he finished third at the PGA Championship in 2015 and tied fourth at the US Open in the same year – so in familiar conditions his performance was not altogether surprising.
Grace’s win means 14 of the last 22 winners of the South African Open have been from the host country, with the distinctive coarse grass favouring those who grew up with it.
This was the ideal way to start the year, considering that he had slipped down as far as No129 in the world rankings in 2019.
His victory automatically qualifies him for entry into the Open in July alongside compatriot Jaco Ahlers and England’s Marcus Armitage, who made a birdie putt on the 72nd green to secure third place outright.
Armitage, who climbed from world No1386 to No475 with that finish, had to go through qualifying school to earn his European Tour card for 2020, so this is a brilliant result for him.
Smith’s win for Australia
On the PGA Tour, meanwhile, Cameron Smith won the Sony Open in Hawaii, beating Brendan Steele at the first play-off hole.
Smith has now won all three of the play-offs he has reached in his career, which is a great statistic to have on your CV.
The Australian is a hell of a player and, while he turned professional in 2013, he is still only 26 so has time on his side.
His victory is a good story for another reason, too. Smith has donated a portion of his prize money, as well as $500 for every birdie and $1,000 for every eagle he managed, to the Australian bushfire crisis in which his uncle lost his home.