A home winner at last as 'amazing' Grace triumphs in Sun City

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The Nedbank Challenge holds major-like prestige for South Africans, and Sun City hadn't seen a local player win since Trevor Immelman in 2007.
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Branden Grace of South Africa poses with the trophy after winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City on November 12, 2017.

Branden Grace's record-breaking round of 62 at the British Open has been overtaken for his best memory of 2017.

South Africa's Grace won the Nedbank Golf Challenge by one shot after finishing 11-under-par on Sunday, making a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 16 to edge in front and become the first home winner in Sun City in a decade.

Grace's long putt at the par 3 put him one ahead of playing partner Scott Jamieson and two clear of Victor Dubuisson, who was also part of the final group. Grace made pars on the last two, tapping in on No. 18 for a 66 and his eighth European Tour title, and first since January 2016.

The Nedbank Challenge holds major-like prestige for South Africans, and Sun City hadn't seen a local player win since Trevor Immelman in 2007.

On clinching victory, Grace raised his arms, closed his eyes, and leaned back as he was sprayed with champagne by fellow South African players Louis Oosthuizen and Darren Fichardt.

There was also a big hug from Gary Player.

"I think this was probably the loudest applause I've ever received coming up the 18th hole," said the 29-year-old Grace, who grew up a couple hours' drive away in Pretoria. "It's awesome. This is really the one I wanted to win. I grew up watching it."

Scotland's Jamieson, the overnight leader, finished second at 10 under after a final-round 70. France's Dubuisson also finished with a 70 and a shot further back in third.

Chinese golfer Li Haotong recorded the best round of the tournament on Sunday, storming up the leaderboard to fourth with a 64.

There were repercussions for the European Tour's Race to Dubai title following the penultimate tournament of the season.

Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood carded a 1-under 71 to finish 3 under and in a tie for 10th at Sun City, where a win would have sealed the season title for the Englishman. It means the Race to Dubai will be a three-player race in Dubai at the season-ending World Tour Championship next weekend, when Fleetwood tries to hold on from compatriot Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia of Spain.

Despite becoming the first man to shoot a 62 at a major when he went 8 under at Royal Birkdale in July, Grace said 2017 had been "a tough year".

Tough day

He had a tough day on Friday, too, carding 75. He was back in the frame with a third-round 68, but still started Sunday three shots behind Jamieson.

Grace was sublime tee to green in the final round, hitting all 18 greens in regulation. He went bogey-free and made six birdies, but there could have been more if not for the putter letting him down.

That was until No. 16.

"I just knew I had to stay patient and had to take my chances when they came," he said. "I missed a couple of short ones but the big key was 16."

Grace, Jamieson and Dubuisson arrived at the tee on No. 15 all tied for the lead at 10 under and ready to take their battle down the final stretch at Gary Player Country Club. Dubuisson dropped back with a bogey there.

Jamieson then sliced his tee shot at No. 16 way right and the ball disappeared among the hospitality tents only to bounce back into view and settle behind a bunker. His chip over the trap lipped out of the cup, nearly giving him a spectacular birdie.

Grace drilled his long putt into the middle of the hole, though, and reacted with a low fist pump and a shout of joy. He said he and his pregnant wife found out on Wednesday that they were expecting a boy.

It was Grace's first tournament win since he enjoyed success on the PGA Tour in South Carolina some 18 months ago.

“It’s a dream come true to win. It was a hard weekend for South African sports fans but luckily this can put a couple of smiles on faces,” he said.

South Africa's soccer team was eliminated from World Cup qualification on Friday while the Springbok rugby side suffered a 3-38 thrashing at the hands of Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.

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