Grace holds biggest 36-hole lead of year, five shots, at Dunhill Links

Branden Grace at the Dunhill Links Championship
Gety Images
Branden Grace got up close and personal with the stone wall behind the green on the famous 'Road Hole' at St. Andrews.
By
PGA.com news services

Series: European Tour

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Branden Grace holds the biggest halfway lead of the European Tour season after a second-round 67 in the Dunhill Links Championship at St. Andrews on Friday.

Having begun the $5 million pro-celebrity event with an incredible tour record-equalling 60 at Kingsbarns, the 24-year-old South African marched five strokes clear by reaching 17 under par at halfway.

When he putted for eagle on the 357-yard last, Grace had a chance to match the circuit's lowest-ever 36-hole total in relation to par, but he happily settled for a two-putt birdie and so the mark set by compatriot Ernie Els at the 2004 Heineken Classic in Australia still stands.

"I just don't really knows what's going on," said the Pretoria golfer, who was outside the world's top 300 less than a year ago, came through qualifying school and now has a chance of an incredible fifth victory of the season.

The fourth came last Sunday in his home country's winter series and was slightly overshadowed, of course, by Europe's miraculous Ryder Cup comeback.

"A win is a win," he added. "It gives you confidence and puts a fire in you. I'm still just running with it."

Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen and Sweden’s Joel Sjoholm are tied for second place and you have to look a long way way down the leaderboard to find many of the big names.

Germany’s Martin Kaymer, the man who sank the all-important putt for Jose Maria Olazabal's side in Chicago, is doing best of the three returning Ryder Cup heroes, but he is down in 56th place on 3 under -- 14 strokes adrift.

Sweden’s Peter Hanson is one further back, but Scotland’s Paul Lawrie is tied for 129th on 1 over -- and only the top 60 and ties survive the cut after Saturday's third round.

The one thing in their favor is that they still have St. Andrews to play whereas Grace has Carnoustie to come, and that is by far the stiffest test of the three.

Also in a fight to stay around for Sunday's closing 18 holes at St. Andrews are British Open champion Els on 1 under, twice winner Padraig Harrington on level par and last year's Open winner Darren Clarke, who is alongside Lawrie.

Lawrie is playing with his 17-year-old son Craig and did not mind admitting that the scratch-handicapper outscored him in the second round, albeit off forward tees.

"He played lovely and was 4 under on his own ball -- I'm very proud of him," said the 1999 Open champion, who had to be content with a two under 70 himself.

Paul Casey is another on 3 under, but the former world number 3 will remember the day for two unusual incidents -- a dog running off with his ball and swimming star Michael Phelps holing a 50-yard putt.

Casey was on the green in two at Kingsbarns' long 12th -- his third -- when the dog took the ball "off up the hill toward the 13th tee.

"I had that moment of panic where I thought I'd have to play it where Digby -- he had his name on his collar -- left it," said Casey. "But we placed it back as close as we could to where we thought it originally was."

Grace had no such dramas, but was glad the format allowed him to switch courses following his 60.

"It would have been a hard situation if I had to play Kingsbarns again after shooting lights out. Getting to St. Andrews, I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I struggling a bit in the beginning, but then my putter started getting hot again."

He had four successive birdies around the turn.

Sjoholm matched the round, while over at Carnoustie Olesen had six birdies and three bogeys for a 69.

As for Phelps, the Olympic swimming great upstaged some of golf's finest players by sinking an astonishing 153-foot putt. It came after Phelps drove the front edge of the green on the par-4 sixth hole at Kingsbarn. He then stepped up with his putter for his second shot, stroked the ball and watched as it rolled and rolled downhill and into the cup.

It took about 17 seconds for the ball to land in the hole -- or slightly quicker than it takes Phelps to swim 50 yards.

Phelps, playing the team event with a 16 handicap, received a stroke on the hole and signed for an aggregate '1' on his scorecard.

''That was the longest putt I've ever holed,'' said the winner of 18 Olympic gold medals. ''It was pretty incredible, watching it dive in was a pretty cool feeling. So to be able to have a net hole-in-one was pretty special.

''Even without that, this trip would have been very special, just having the opportunity to come over here and play among some of these players has been absolutely incredible.''

Phelps recorded a net eagle '2' at the next hole with pro partner Casey. They moved to 9 under overall.

Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee and his amateur partner, Hugh Courtney Jr., lead the team format at 21 under.