Having a ball:  Branden Grace took home $1.25m and a trophy for winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge on Sunday. Picture: GORDON ARONS/GALLO IMAGES
Having a ball: Branden Grace took home $1.25m and a trophy for winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge on Sunday. Picture: GORDON ARONS/GALLO IMAGES

Branden Grace ended a decade-long drought of South African winners of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City on Sunday. Gary Player jumped out of his chair and hugged him.

A shower of champagne was followed by a shower of rain. All that was missing was the rainbow. But Grace already had the pot of gold.

Grace produced what Player called a "stroke of genius" when he rolled in an almost 50-foot birdie putt on the par-three 16th to break free of a tie with Scotland’s Scott Jamieson and take a one-stroke lead into the closing holes. He finished with 66 to win on 11 under par, taking home $1.25m, with Jamieson raking in second on 10 under.

That putt defined his tournament, and that it occurred on a 16th hole that has enabled some of the most dramatic victories in the history of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, hosted by Player, made it that much sweeter.

Minutes before Grace made his crucial birdie putt, Jamieson nearly chipped in for birdie from the right greenside rough, with his ball lipping the hole.

"This is awesome. This is the one event that as a South African you want to win. It’s Africa’s Major for a reason and what a special place it is," said Grace.

"There’s a lot of history and a lot of great winners on the trophy and I’m very glad to be able to put my name on the trophy as well," he said.

After 54 holes of "Africa’s Major" and with Grace struggling to find his rhythm on the front nine in each of his rounds, the young South African was only three shots off the lead.

He described himself as "a grinder and a fighter". He was both on Sunday. The grind was whatever he did mentally the night before to rip his head out of the slow front nines he had endured. And there was much fight in the fist-pump on 16.

Grace is the seventh winner on the European Tour’s elite Rolex Series in 2017, with this being the penultimate event on the Race to Dubai.

"That’s awesome. It’s special to win here, and then special to win one of the Rolex Series tournaments as well."

Jamieson finished second on 10 under with a 70. His hopes were dealt a blow by his double-bogey six on the eighth hole. Frenchman Victor Dubuisson took third place on nine under par, and China’s Haotong Li produced an eight-under-par 64, to finish fourth on seven under.

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