SOUTH AFRICAN Branden Grace became only the second player in European Tour history to win three times in the season after graduating through Qualifying School as he cantered to victory at the 2012 Volvo China Open.
Three clear of last year’s winner Nicolas Colsaerts overnight, Gace’s lead on the final day was never fewer than two shots and a closing 69 saw him finish 21 under at Binhai Lake.
“I stayed really calm today,” said Grace. “I kept hitting the ball well. I missed a couple of shots the first couple of holes but regrouped well and made the birdies where it counts on the par fives, and just stayed with it from there.
“I thought my first win was around the corner [this season]. To have three before May is literally unbelievable, but I’ve been playing well so I’ve been feeling like I can win and I’ve been giving myself opportunities.”
As well as matching Johan Edfors’ 2006 accomplishment of winning three times after coming through Qualifying School in the winter, the 23 year old joins some illustrious company in The European Tour record books.
Only two players have won three European Tour titles in a single season at a younger age – Seve Ballesteros did it three times between 1977 and 1980, and Sandy Lyle did it in 1979.
Grace also becomes only the third South African to win three times in a single season, and again he is in the company of Major winners – Ernie Els and Retief Goosen are the others to do so.
The Joburg Open and Volvo Golf Champions winner’s achievements are all the more remarkable given there have been only 15 events so far on the 2012 Race to Dubai, and few would bet against him adding to his trophy haul before the season’s end.
Belgian Colsaerts (69) was second on 18-under while Englishman Richard Finch shot a final round 66 to be alone in third a stroke further back.
Marcus Frazer (70) was the best placed Aussie tied for 6th on 15-under while Richard Green (66) was a stroke further back at T11 and Brett Rumford and Scott Strange finished on 10 under.