Grace wins first European title

Johannesburg: South African Branden Grace played with admirable composure to win his first European Tour title with victory in the Joburg Open by a stroke with a level-par final round of 72.

Grace finished on 17-under-par, one stroke ahead of Briton Jamie Elson, who catapulted himself into second place with an outstanding nine-under-par 63.

The 23-year-old began the final round with a three- stroke lead over compatriot George Coetzee and Briton Richard Finch. They were all playing in the final three-ball after weather delays on the first three days of the 1.3 million euro ($1.65 million) event.

Finch crashed to a six-over-par 78, three-putting three times on the front nine, to end nine shots off the pace.

Coetzee closed to within two shots of the lead with birdies on the fifth, sixth and eighth holes, but the burly South African faded on the back nine after a double-bogey on the par- four 13th when he hooked his approach shot into the water.

The world number 80 finished with a 75 to close on 11-under-par in a tie for 14th place.

Grace, a former member of the Ernie Els Foundation, put together nine straight pars on the back nine to hold off Elson and six golfers who finished in a tie for third on 14-under.

The pressure of leading seemed to affect Grace at the start of the final round as he bogeyed the par-three second hole. But a wonderful approach shot to within eight feet on the 389-metre par-four ninth hole set up a birdie that seemed to settle the former South African amateur strokeplay champion.

"I played superbly today, my approach shots were amazing. I stuck to my game-plan and kept hitting good shot after good shot. I couldn`t dream of better approach shots than what I played on the last five holes," Grace told reporters.

Grace`s back nine was the epitome of solid golf under pressure as he made no mistakes off the tee and was superb with his irons. The margin of victory would have been greater if he had not narrowly missed a number of birdie putts.

"The opportunities were there, but I told myself first of all not to mess up and then to just keep giving myself chances. I struggled to get the lines exactly right, the greens were immaculate, but if you were a little bit off, you ended four feet away," he said.

"Obviously it`s awesome to win, it`s been coming a long time and it`s really nice to have the first win back home. The hard work has paid off and my consistency has paid off."

Bureau Report