By Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Branden Grace of South Africa introduced himself to the famed, and usually feared, Bear Trap very early on Tuesday morning, birdieing his way through that hazardous section of the Champion Course at PGA National en route to a 5-under 65 and an early tie for the tournament lead with Graham DeLaet.
Grace, 24, who was playing his first competitive round at The Honda Classic, knew the famous three-hole stretch -- the 173-yard 15th, the 405-yard 16th and 185-yard 17th holes -- only by reputation. He had never seen them before playing a practice round plus nine holes this week, and asked fellow South African, Charl Schwartzel, about them last week during the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championbship.
“He said, ‘Listen, the four finishing holes are quite a beast out there,’” Grace said. “So I was a little bit nervous coming here, and today I thought just, you know, what's going to happen around that corner?”
What happened was that Grace, who had bogeyed the 10th hole (his first), flew right under radar to take advantage of benign conditions -- light winds out of the northwest, helping on all three holes. He hit it to a foot at the 15th, made a 17-footer at the 16th and an 19-footer at the 17th. For good measure, he birdied the 561-yard, par-5 18th, chipping up from the right bank to 7-feet and making it to go out in 32.
If such a thing is possible, Grace “quietly” won four times on the European Tour last year. But he won’t be flying under radar much longer, if at all. One of seven South African players currently competing on TOUR, Grace hopes to become a regular PGA TOUR member this year. He can do that by finishing the year among the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings (he is currently 30th) or by finishing among the top 125 on the money list.
Either way, his odds look good. His European Tour wins in 2012 proved he belongs among the game’s elite. He won twice in January, first at the Joburg Open, then in a playoff over Ernie Els and Retief Goosen at the Volvo Golf Champions at Fancourt. He shot 21-under to win the Volvo China Open in April then 22-under to win the Dunhill Links in October, opening with a round of 60 at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
His planned U.S. schedule so far this year is next week at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump Doral, the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard two weeks later and, he hopes at the Shell Houston Open two weeks before The Masters. He will play THE PLAYERS Championship in May, head back to Europe for two tournaments and then return for The Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance in June.
MARANA, Ariz. -- Robert Garrigus birdied five of his first eight holes to race out to a commanding lead en route to a 4 and 3 win over Branden Grace in Thursday's first round.
Garrigus, a No. 9 seed, now faces Louis Oosthuizen in the second round of the Hogan bracket.
Garrigus opened the match by making a birdie putt from 11 feet. He added another from inside 17 feet at the third and then another from 24 feet at the fifth.
His only slip was a double bogey at the 10th but by then, it didn't matter.
Garrigus is playing in his first Accenture Match Play Championship.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- Tiger Woods saw progress with his putter on Saturday at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
Woods broke par for just the first time all week as he shot a third-round 68 and finished 54 holes at even par. Granted, he used 31 putts -- his second highest total of the week -- but he managed three birdies and only dropped one shot to par.
The world No. 2 continued to hit his irons well, finding 15 of 18 greens in regulation, his highest total of the week, despite hitting just six fairways. For the week, he's hit 39 of 54 greens in regulation and 22 of 42 fairways.
So given the way he was playing tee to green, Woods said he wasn't overly concerned by the inconsistency with his putter. A TOUR record-tying eighth Bridgestone Invitational title may be out of reach but Woods was generally encouraged by his play.
"I hit the ball well enough, as I said, to be in the top five and could have made a run just by being in that position if I would have putted well the first couple days,” Woods said. “I'm not that far off and just got to play one solid round tomorrow, if we play tomorrow, and get ready for the PGA."
Woods said he worked on his alignment Friday afternoon and began to get his feel back with the putter. "My blade was releasing properly again, and it felt really comfortable," he reported.
Woods said he enjoyed playing with Braden Grace for the third straight day. Grace, who has won three times on the European Tour this year as Woods has on the PGA TOUR, was 7 under through his first 10 holes and finished with a 66.
"Today I hit the ball well and made some putts, so ... I thought I was playing pretty well ... through, I'll say, 11 holes, but I was getting killed by my playing partner," Woods said. "I thought I was playing well, but he was playing better. So it was a good day. We both had some good rounds today, and it was good to finish up on a positive note."
Grace, for his part, seemed to get more relaxed with each day. He opened with a 72, shot 70 with 18 pars in the second round and finished off a 66 on Saturday.
"I think yesterday was pretty much all right, as well, just the first day was a little bit hectic," Grace said. "Obviously the first time playing with Tiger was an experience of its own. Obviously the crowds and everything has been great. But like I say, this golf course, you need to get to know it.
"Yesterday I played a lot better. Obviously I didn't make a birdie or a bogey yesterday, but it was nice to go out there today and know that the birdies were there for the making, and I made a couple."
Grace said all his friends have been calling and asking what it is like to play with Woods.
"I've played with him three days in a row has been unreal," Grace said. "I've learned a hell of a lot from playing with him. The way he plays shots, the way he handles himself and things like that has been great. He's there because he is the best in the world. I've seen it now, and I think (the) people ... that criticize him is wrong.
“He's one hell of a guy, and he's pretty much the nicest guy I've ever played with."
AKRON, Ohio -- Branden Grace spent the first two rounds of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational playing with one of his idols, Tiger Woods.
Grace found himself in Woods' group on Saturday, as well, after opening with a 72 and reeling off 18 pars on Friday. The South African is on a tear, too -- making five birdies on the front nine to turn in 30, which is one shot off the record.
Grace, who has three European Tour victories this year, two-putted from 33 feet at the second hole for his first birdie. His other birdie putts have come from 5, 7, 5 and 10 feet so he’s now moved to 3 under for the tournament.
Woods, on the other hand, made the turn in 34 and is 1 over for the tournament.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- The 2012 season has been a year of firsts for South African Branden Grace.
He won his first European Tour event, then made sure no one could say it was a fluke by winning two more. Grace played in his first World Golf Championships event in March and he will be making his debut in another this week at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Oh, and did we mention that he'll be playing with Tiger Woods for the first time during the first two rounds at Firestone? Grace could hardly believe his good fortune.
"I've heard a rumor at the beginning of the week that that's what they're going to try to do because we're the only two guys that's won three times in the year," Grace said. "But I didn't really think it was going to happen. But it's unreal. He's my idol. He's been my role model since I started playing golf.
“Tomorrow is a little bit of a dream come true."
Woods says he had seen Grace play but he can't recall every meeting the 24-year-old.
"He's really played well," Woods said. "I don't know Branden at all, so it'll be fun to get out there and chitchat a little bit with him and get to know him. ... It'll be a good next couple days for us. I know I am looking forward to it, and hopefully he is, as well."
Grace got a little taste of the kind of crowds he'll face on Thursday when he played in his -- yes, you guessed it – first U.S. Open earlier this summer. His partner during the final round at the Olympic Club was none other than Phil Mickelson.
"There was huge crowds and things like that,” Grace said. “Obviously I played with Mickelson there, as well, so I think the experience is there, and obviously you're going to have a little bit of pressure playing with Woods, but something you just have to deal with."
Grace was playing the Challenge Tour a year ago. He finished 23rd on the money list, which was three spots shy of receiving his European Tour card. He prevailed in q-school, though, and wasted no time making his mark -- winning twice in his first three European Tour starts and adding a thir at the Volvo China Open in April.
"It just shows you how much a year can change in such a short while," Grace said. "I promise you at the end of the last year I wouldn't have dreamt of playing with Tiger first two rounds in the Bridgestone. It's one of those. But it shows you if you stick your head down and keep grinding and keep playing, you never know what can happen."