South African Branden Grace secured his third win of the year and the biggest of his career when he beat defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium by three strokes in the U.S. $3 million Volvo China Open, co-sanctioned by OneAsia and the European Tour.
The 23-year-old, playing his first season on the European Tour since gaining his card at Q school last year, made the most of benign weather to maintain the three-stroke lead he held overnight to win RMB 3, 333 330, (around U.S. $530 000).
Rounds of 67, 67, 64 and 69 gave him a 21-under par total of 267 and set a record on this new links-style course, which at 7,667 yards is one of the longest on any professional circuit. Like many links courses, however, the weather is its chief defense, and on a balmy day conditions were perfect for low scores.
Colsaerts, whose only European Tour victory came at this event last year, put in a heroic defense of his title , but his three-under 69 for the day was not enough to catch Grace. A crucial birdie on the last, however, gave him sole possession of second place and also a spot in the Volvo World Matchplay Championships next month.
A shot further back was England’s Richard Finch, who closed with a 66, one ahead of Frenchman Victor Dubuisson and George Coetzee of South Africa who shared fourth.
Grace burst onto the scene in January when he won back-to-back victories in his native South Africa, beating a host of his talented countrymen and the cream of European talent to take the Joburg Open and the Volvo Golf Champions tournament.
In the latter, he and Colsaerts went head-to-head on the final day, and the pair have now forged something of a friendship as they played the final two rounds together this weekend.
“To have won three now, before May, is unbelievable,” a beaming Grace said after his victory. “Now I want to win every weekend.”
The 23-year-old’s only blemish of the day was a bogey on the par-four fourth, but he recovered and kept his nerve for the remainder of the round.
“I stayed really calm even after the bogey,” he said. “I think the experience of earlier this year really helped me a lot.”
Grace said he would now shift his focus to gaining a bit more experience playing on the PGA tour as well as the Majors.
Among the Aussies, Melbourne’s Marcus Fraser fired a solid -15 to finish in a tie for 6th place. Only a bogey on the 72nd hole kept Fraser from shooting four rounds in the 60’s. Fraser has had a rollercoaster year in 2012, with a few missed cuts mixed in with some top showings, including a T4 in India. This comes on the heels of a spectacular Aussie summer which saw him vault into the World Top-100.
See the May issue of Inside Golf for our exclusive interview with Marcus Fraser.
Volvo China Open