Branden Grace combined a phenomenal ball-striking day with his experience around Leopard Creek to shoot an extremely tidy four-under-par 68 in the Alfred Dunhill Championship on Thursday, putting him comfortably in the top-10 after the first round.
Grace triumphed at Leopard Creek in 2014 and since then has finished in ties for eighth, 20th and 34th so, all things considered, it is a course he thoroughly enjoys. And he made it count in terms of scoring on Thursday.
“I’m very pleased, it was probably my best ball-striking ever around here. It was a very solid start, there’s no such thing as an easy 68 but this was one of my easiest, I was just very pleased with the way I hit it. When I was out there, I remembered just about all the shots I played when I won and the course hasn’t changed so much from the tee.
“It just makes it easier for me to pick and commit to my shots, compared to someone who hasn’t played here before. It’s a course I’m very fond of and it’s in awesome nick. The changes to the course have settled in nicely now and the rough is up more than normal too. When I won here, I played pretty aggressively from the tee and I did the same thing today. I just have to stay with the game-plan and stay patient,” Grace said after his round.
With temperatures rising to 38 degrees in Malelane on Thursday, handling the heat was always going to be an important factor, not just in terms of staying physically fresh and being able to concentrate properly, but also in terms of how certain shots need to be played.
“With the heat today, handling the temperature is the tough thing, but you can get some extra yards on your shots. But there’s been a bit of length added to the course and some pin-placements were really tough. You can still predict what the ball is going to do on the greens, but the organisers are going to have to be careful how we progress if the predicted even hotter weather arrives because that’s just going to make everything even firmer and quicker.
“So it’s not about going for the pins, you’ve got to hit your targets and then try and make your putts. There’s a long three days still ahead but the changes are settling in nicely. The rough is up more than normal, and the extended water on the seventh makes that hole even tougher and there’s also the extended green on 16. This is still one of the best stops of the year for me,” Grace said.