Ernie Els in 2012. What about Branden Grace in 2013? The Open Championship has been something of a happy hunting ground for the South Africans recently. If Grace's performance in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship this week is anything to go by, you could do a lot worse than stick a few bob on him winning the Claret Jug at Muirfield next summer. Els, himself, may fancy a flutter.
The Big Easy made it look easy over St Andrews' Old Course yesterday. Flirting with an early exit from the lucrative Pro-Am affair after two rounds – the cut fell after 54-holes last night – the reigning Open champion came hurtling up 107 places on the leaderboard with a seven-under-par 65 for an eight-under 208 to move into the leading 30.
That mighty effort still left Els wheezing some 12 shots behind his young countryman Grace, who stayed on track for a fourth European Tour title of a sparkling season. The 24-year-old, who led by five overnight, may have had his momentum disrupted by a double-bogey six on Carnoustie's 15th, but the damage was not severe and a three-under 69 over the rigorous Angus links still kept him four strokes clear of Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen on a 20-under aggregate of 196.
Grace, who is tucked inside the world's top 50 having been down among the 300s this time last season, was a member of Els' own Foundation in his formative golfing years. The likes of Oosthuizen, the Open champion at St Andrews two years ago, and the 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel also benefited from that support programme in their early days and Els is delighted to see another young talent blossoming on the professional stage. The master has certainly been impressed by the apprentice and Els believes there is much, much more to come.
"He's one heck of a player," said the 42-year-old, who illuminated his own round by chipping in from 60 yards for an eagle two on the 12th. "He's a world contender now and I think he's good enough to play on both tours [European and US PGA]. Branden could go the same way as Louis, Charl and myself.
"His game is suited to links golf too and he hits those low, bullet drives that don't really move too much and run forever. He could well win an Open Championship, he's that good."
They seemed to be falling over themselves to lavish praise on the tournament pacesetter. Even Padraig Harrington, the triple Major champion, jumped on the Branden bandwagon. "He's the guy I would most like to play golf with at this very moment because I'm curious to see what is making him tick and what I can learn from him," said the Irishman, after a 66 at St Andrews that hoisted him on to six-under 210.
Grace himself was more than content to emerge from the Carnoustie test with a three-under card. His procession took a small detour when he found the fairway bunker on 15 and took a six but, with nearest challenger Olesen also slipping to a late double-bogey at Kingsbarns en route to a 68, Grace's victory parade remained very much on course.
"I've dreamed of picking up a trophy on that bridge on the 18th so maybe this time will come," said Grace ahead of today's closing round over the Old Course.
The Swedish duo of Alexander Noren and Fredrik Andersson Hed share third on 201s while Stephen Gallacher planted a saltire in the upper reaches as he barged his way into a tie for fifth with a late flourish at Kingsbarns.
The 37-year-old, whose one and only European Tour triumph came in the Dunhill Links event in 2004, holed his 5-iron second shot from 200 yards on the 17th for an eagle and then rolled in a birdie on the last in a purposeful seven-under 65 for 14-under 202.
"It was totally blind, but I knew it was in when I saw people jumping around," said Gallacher, who is 40th nn the Race to Dubai and is targeting a top-30 finish on the rankings that would be rewarded with an automatic spot at next year's Open.
Martin Kaymer, the man who nabbed the winning point in the Ryder Cup last weekend, and his Europe team-mate Peter Hanson both survived the cut on 210 and 211 respectively but Paul Lawrie, who also played his part in the Medinah Miracle, departed on a 213. Michael Hoey, the defending champion here, was another casualty of the cut.