1/12/2020 6:58:12 PM

'Red hot' Grace unleashes birdie blitz to win South African Open

Johannesburg, South Africa: Four consecutive second-nine birdies powered Branden Grace to a three-shot victory Sunday at the South African Open in Johannesburg and ended a 25-month trophy drought.  

Grace began the back nine of the final round at Randpark Golf Club at 17 under par and level with fellow South African and defending champion Louis Oosthuizen, the overnight leader.

His birdie rush began at 11 and continued through 14 to turn the tide and give Grace a final-round 62 and his first silverware since winning the 2017 Nedbank Golf Challenge. 

Grace completed the European Tour tournament in 263 shots, 21 under par, with 2010 British Open champion Oosthuizen (68) second three strokes adrift.

Marcus Armitage (69) finished third on 268 and fellow Englishman Jack Senior (67) and South African Jaco Ahlers (69) shared fourth one shot behind.

Apart from winning the South African Open, Grace took one of three 2020 British Open places up for grabs with the others going to Armitage and Ahlers.

Oosthuizen qualifies automatically as the 2010 champion and Ahlers pipped Senior because of a higher world ranking.

The first person to hug Grace after he birdied the final hole was his one-year-son, followed by his wife, who celebrated her birthday Sunday.

"It was a remarkable performance," said Pretoria-born Grace after claiming his ninth European Tour success. "I played flawless golf today and my putter was red hot.

"This is a trophy I really wanted to get my hands on because it means so much for any South African to win on home soil.

"What an emotional day for the Grace family -- I win the South African Open for the first time and my wife celebrates her birthday."

Amid the disappointment of allowing a three-stroke overnight lead slip, Oosthuizen had the joy of scoring a hole in one at the eighth.

His tee shot appeared to be heading right of the green, then hopped left off the fringe and rolled into the cup.

Armitage was equally thrilled after a birdie at the last hole -- had he missed Senior would have taken the British Open slot instead.

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