South Africa’s Branden Grace won his first European Tour title Sunday with a par 72 for a one-shot victory at the Joburg Open. The tournament was co-sanctioned with southern Africa’s Sunshine Tour.
Grace had a bogey and birdie on the East Course at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club to edge Englishman Jamie Elson, finishing at 17-under 270.
The 23-year-old Grace had his three-shot, third-round lead cut to one when Elson made a 30-foot putt for eagle on No. 18 to finish with a 63. Elson had seven birdies along with his eagle, including six in his first eight holes.
But Grace, one of 27 players to complete his third round in the morning because of rain delays, held on with nine straight pars coming home for his second professional win after a 2010 victory on the Sunshine Tour.
“I played really nicely, I hit the ball superb I think, and the putter was just cold,” Grace said. “I couldn’t get the speed of the greens. Fortunately, at the end of the day, it was enough.”
Scottish pair David Drysdale (67) and Marc Warren (68) were part of a six-way tie for third. Retief Goosen had a 73 and finished 16th, seven shots behind the leader.
Organizers were forced to play catch-up for most of the tournament after rain and darkness caused the first three rounds to be completed the next day.
The Joburg Open joined the European Tour schedule in 2007, and has been played in early January every year.
Grace’s final-round 72 included 16 pars, while Elson stormed into second place on the back of a superb 63.
Scotland’s David Drysdale (67) and Marc Warren (68) ended in a six-way tie for third at 14 under alongside South Africans Jaco Van Zyl, Michiel Bothma, Dawe van der Walt and Trevor Fisher Jr.
Grace, who secures a one-year exemption with his triumph, becomes the 30th different South African to win on the European Tour in what was his 50th start on the circuit. He was up early on Sunday morning to complete the remaining three holes of his third round and did so in fine style as he birdied 17 and 18 to open up a three-shot heading into the final round.
He started his final 18 in rather nervy fashion as he followed a par at the generous par-5 first with a bogey at the second. However, with the exception of Elson, who rolled home a fantastic eagle at the 18th to close to within a shot and post the clubhouse target, Grace's rivals were unable to put him under any real pressure.
George Coetzee was unable to recover from three straight bogeys at the start of his final round, while England's Richard Finch fell away to a disastrous 78 as he ended way back in a tie for 24th.
Grace made birdie at the ninth to get himself back level with compatriot Bothma remaining his closest active challenger. But, following a bogey at 17, Grace was able to head to the final tee knowing a par would be good enough for victory and he duly obliged with a steady two-putt.
"This is a dream come true, it's nice to win in front of a home crowd and I wouldn't change it for anything else," the delighted South African stated afterward.