"It could have been a 59," said Branden Grace, after taking just 60 blows to negotiate his way around Kingbarns in the opening round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Some of the amateurs in this Pro-Am would have been happy with 60 to the turn.
The South African made it look easy on a delightful day in Fife. He also made it easy for the headline writers, too. With three wins on the European Tour already this season, the old chestnut "Amazing Grace" has been trotted out a few times during 2012 and the 24-year-old was up to his antics again yesterday with a sparkling 12-under-par card that thrust him to the top of the order.
Grace's superbly assembled round shaved two shots off the Kingsbarns course record of 62 set by Lee Westwood and equalled the lowest score recorded on the European Tour. It really was amazing stuff.
Blasting off on the 10th tee, Grace, a former South African Amateur Strokeplay champion, was swiftly into his stride with a birdie there before quickening the pace with further gains at the 12th and 13th and an eagle-3 on the 16th to turn in five-under. The blitz continued on his inward half and a haul of seven birdies, polished by five in a row from the fifth, brought the curtain down on dazzling display. There has never been a 59 on the European circuit but Grace gave it his all in his quest to create a bit of history. He needed an eagle on the par-5 ninth – his last – to achieve that and, having pushed his second shot wide, his pitch came to rest just a foot from the hole. "I said to my caddie when I hit it stiff there, 'geez, that was close for a 59'," said Grace, who returned to the European circuit through last December's qualifying school and made an immediate impact by winning the Joburg Open, the Volvo Golf Champions and the China Open within the first four months of the new campaign.
Grace, who became the 14th different player to conjure a 60 on the European stage, was not the only one to indulge in the birdie feast. Frenchman Victor Dubuisson brought the Old Course at St Andrews to its knees and claimed a new record with a 10-under 62.
The former European Amateur champion who was a regular visitor to the home of golf for the St Andrews Links Trophy during his time in the unpaid ranks, also raised hopes of a 59 having covered 15 holes in 11-under.
The charge was halted on the seventh – he started on the back nine – with his only bogey of the day and a par, par finish saw the round meander to an uneventful conclusion. It was not a bad day's work, though. "When you are 11-under and you have a few holes to play, you start to think about the 59," said Dubuisson. "It's almost like a dream but after that second shot at the seventh I said 'oh no, it's finished now, no 59'."
With Grace and Dubuisson setting a quite furious pace, Richie Ramsay did well to keep himself clinging to the coat tails of the frontrunners.
The 29-year-old's seven-birdie 65 over the Old Course hoisted him into the upper echelons as he marked his first competitive outing as a married man.
Having notched his second European Tour title, the Omega European Masters, recently, Ramsay continues to make strides in the right direction and, in the euphoria generated by Europe's Ryder Cup win, he afforded himself a small look into the future. The transatlantic tussle remains one of the former US Amateur champion's ultimate goals. Having retired for an early night as Europe were overcoming the odds to beat America on Sunday, however, Ramsay missed all the excitement. The victory was still something of an eye opener for him though.
"I didn't see any of it," he admitted. "But I know that in order to compete and try and be as good as those players are, I need to be going to bed and not staying up and watching them winning the Ryder Cup. I'm not going to start saying that I want to play in the Ryder Cup [at Gleneagles in 2014] but all I would say is that when I was 16, a dream of mine was to play on the European Tour and to win on it and I've done that. The Ryder Cup is a similar dream. I'm a big believer that if you work hard then you can achieve a lot. It's a big, big question mark but it's something I would love to do."
With Kingsbarns and St Andrews being ripped to shreds, the best scores over the more fortified links of Carnoustie were five-under 67s, by Frenchman Gregory Havret and England's former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson. Martin Kaymer, Europe's cup winner in Chicago on Sunday night, opened with a two-under 70 while Open champion, Ernie Els had to settle for a one-over 73. Paul Lawrie, partnering eldest son Craig, had a tired 75. "Craig played well but struggled with the putter, I don't know where he gets that from?" reported Lawrie, with a wry smile.
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