Having shot a 64 on Randpark Golf Course’s tougher Firethorn course on Thursday, using his Driver and Wedge as a lethal combination, one would have thought Branden Grace would be licking his lips at the prospect of playing the shorter Bushwillow layout on Friday in the second round of the South African Open.
But Grace was surprisingly preaching caution after his round, the best on Firethorn all day and one which lifted him into a tie for fourth place, two behind American Johannes Veerman, who fired a wonderful 62 on Bushwillow, where many golfers used that same Driver-Wedge combination to great effect.
“When I play in Joburg I always try to be very aggressive from the tees and give myself lots of chances with wedges; you’re going for tucked pins but if you can get it inside 15 feet then you have a chance and I’ve worked hard on my putting. Bushwillow will be a bit different in the second round, but I don’t like to say one course is easier than the other.
“Although Firethorn is tighter and longer, I will still need to go through my same routines and stick to what worked in the practice round there. There’s no such thing as an easy course, and it can backfire on you if you think you’re going to be able to just rock up and automatically shoot even lower,” Grace said on Thursday.
There are 20 golfers milling around within three shots of the lead after the first round at Randpark, but only five of those – the South African duo of Grace and George Coetzee, Australian David Micheluzzi and Englishmen Marcus Armitage and Harry Hall – played on Firethorn, which played even longer due to the 8 millilitres of rain that fell in the early hours of Thursday morning.
That rain also made the greens softer and allowed for more ‘target’ golf on Bushwillow. The defending champion, and South Africa’s highest-ranked golfer, Louis Oosthuizen, pointed out that heavier rain on Friday would be to the detriment of those golfers playing the ‘easier’ course in the second round.
“Everyone plays Bushwillow once, but if it rains all day tomorrow [Friday] then the guys playing there will be at a big disadvantage. It’s always difficult to prepare for two different courses, it just adds a bit more stress. I didn’t get a practice round in on Bushwillow because my flight was delayed by four hours. But I remembered the course, once I was out there it all came back to me.
“The course was good despite all the rain, we had preferred lies but you did not always need them. My Driver was very good, Bushwillow is a lot shorter so I was hitting short-irons in all the time, you can be more aggressive. Firethorn will play longer though so you’ve got to hit good tee-shots, but you can score there as well. The greens are similar on the two courses and I’ve played them before so I know the lines off the tee,” Oosthuizen said after posting a fine 65 that put him right in the mix