Grace shoots course-record 60 at Kingsbarns to lead Dunhill Links

Branden Grace at the Dunhill Links Championship
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Branden Grace's 60 was two shots better than the 62 posted by Lee Westwood on his way to victory in 2003.
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PGA.com news services

Series: European Tour

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland  -- South Africa's Branden Grace made five closing birdies to shoot a course record 12-under 60 in the opening round of the Dunhill Links Championship on Thursday.
 
Grace, who has won three European Tour events this year, took full advantage of the superb scoring conditions at Kingsbarns, one of three courses hosting the $5 million European Tour event. The tournament features a pro-celebrity format, similar to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour. 
 
The 24-year old Grace's score was two shots better than the 62 posted by England's Lee Westwood on his way to victory in 2003.
 
While no player has recorded a 59 in the 40-year history of the European Tour, Grace is the 15th player to shoot 60.
 
''It could have been a 59, and I said to my caddie when I hit it stiff on 18 that it could be close to a 59,'' Grace said. ''I had some opportunities, but you know, I never really made anything long. But that round has to be my best ever.''
 
Victor Dubuisson shot a course record 10-under 62 on Old Course at nearby St. Andrews, despite dropping a shot at the 16th hole.
 
''It's very special as I had 10 under par in Italy last year, but today I could have done better,'' Dubuisson said. ''I'm not saying that 10 under is really bad. It's my best score I have ever played, but it's just that my longest putt was (16 feet).''
 
Dubuisson's round is one stroke less than the previous low of 63 set by three players, including Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy during the 2010 British Open.
 
The lowest round of the day at Carnoustie was 67, shared by England's Oliver Wilson and Frenchman Gregory Havret.
 
The four Ryder Cup players in the event struggled at Carnoustie. Martin Kaymer shot 70, Peter Hanson and American Dustin Johnson had 72s. Johnson moved to 4 under after 12 holes but dropped four shots in his closing four. Paul Lawrie finished with a 75.
 
''I am a bit tired and just played poorly,'' said Lawrie, winner of the inaugural event in 2001. ''My first 12 holes was probably my worst ball striking of the year but I put that down to a bit of jet lag, and I also didn't sleep well last night.''

Grace, already with three European Tour titles to his name this season, carded an eagle and 10 birdies.

Current British Open champion Ernie Els had to play the last eight in 3 under just for a 73.

"I was shocking on the front nine. I don't know where I was -- Florida or somewhere," said Els, who stood on the 11th tee 4 over, but birdied three of the next four holes and parred in.

Paul McGinley, the favorite to take over from Jose Maria Olazabal as Europe's Ryder Cup captain, struggled to a 76 and is down near the rear of the 168-strong field. Highlight of the Irishman's day, in fact, was partnering Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pretorius in the celebrity pro-am.

"It was a real honor to be in his company," he said.

When Westwood had his 62 at Kingsbarns in 2003, it included a double-eagle 2on the ninth, but Grace needed nothing as extraordinary as that.

"I never really made anything long," he said. "It was all 12- to 15-footers and it's nice just to have a bogey-free round on a links. We were lucky with the weather, but you still have to get it in the right spots and get it around."

His eagle came on the 565-yard 16th, his seventh, and took him to 5 under, but it was on the outward half where he really went into overdrive. Grace birdied all but the second and fourth and came to the 558-yard ninth needing an eagle for the 59, but pushed his second wide before pitching to a foot.

Amazingly, Dubuisson threatened to overshadow him at the Home of Golf when he reached 11 under with three to play. Two more birdies and he would have had the elusive and magical 59, but the 22-year-old bogeyed the 371-yard seventh and parred the last two.

He switches to Carnoustie on Saturday, while Grace is at St. Andrews.

Kaymer dropped his only shot of the day at the 18th -- good job for Europe he did better than that at Medinah -- while Hanson, far from happy about also playing only twice in America, recovered from 3 over to 1 under before also finishing with a 5.

This was not only Lawrie returning to the scene of his Open triumph. So was Padraig Harrington, who won the Claret Jug in 2007 after a playoff with Sergio Garcia, and he signed for a 71.

McGinley was inevitably asked about the 2014 captaincy when he finished, but is not about to embark on any campaign for the job.

"As my caddie Jimmy says, 'what's meant for you won't pass you by'," he commented. "I'll just have to wait and see."