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Volvo Tour Champions: Branden Graces wins

Amazing Grace! Els and Goosen lose out to new South African star at Volvo Champions

Ernie Els and Retief Goosen did battle at Fancourt again, but this time found themselves out-gunned by the new star of South African golf.

A week after capturing his first European Tour title, 23-year-old Branden Grace beat two of his boyhood heroes in a play-off for the Volvo Golf Champions.

Amazing Grace indeed – he was at the Tour qualifying school only a month ago and did not even have a place in the 35-man winners-only field until he lifted last week's Joburg Open.

Drama: Branden Grace won after a three-way play-off

Drama: Branden Grace won after a three-way play-off

He becomes the first player since Fred Couples in 1995 to follow his first victory on the circuit with another on his very next start.

Els and Goosen were left as joint runners-up seven years after they left the rest for dead on the course in the South African Open, Goosen winning by a shot on that occasion.

'I'm really ecstatic,' said Grace after his two-putt birdie at the first extra hole.

'It's a dream come to win such a big event – pretty much the best tournament I've played in so far.'

He was 258th in the world little over a week ago, but now moves inside the top 100.

With Europe's Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal dropping back to sixth after sharing the lead early in the final round and Padraig Harrington falling away to 10th, Grace could easily have won the event in regulation play.

But missing a birdie chance of under
five feet on the last left him with a two under par 71 and put him
alongside Els and Goosen on 12 under.

Holding his nerve: Grace celebrates as he holes the winning putt

Holding his nerve: Grace celebrates as he holes the winning putt

They had shot 67 and 70 respectively, Els sinking an 18-foot eagle putt on the 13th and then almost chipping in for another at the last, while Goosen also eagled the 13th and birdied three of the last four.

Grace had fallen four behind when he double-bogeyed the third and bogeyed the fourth, but he covered the remaining 14 holes in five under to prove himself made of stern stuff.

He then hit the longest drive when the trio returned to the 549-yard 18th for sudden death and, with Els driving into the rough and Goosen pushing his second, was the only one on the green in two.

Els hit his third to 18 feet and Goosen's chip stopped on the ridge 30 feet short of the hole.

Grace, though, rolled his long first putt down to three feet and made no mistake after his rivals had both missed.

Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts was also tied for the lead with one to play, but hit a wild drive and with a bogey six had to settle for fourth place, while Masters champion Charl Schwartzel finished two back.

At least Els is now closer to returning to the world's top 50, which he needs to do in the next two months to secure a place in The Masters, but Harrington's 76 means he still has a lot of work to do to get back into the top 64 in time for next month's Accenture world match play.

Els said: 'A couple more putts here and there and that could have been something special.

'It's a very encouraging week, all four rounds under par, and I'm working on some good stuff.'

Olazabal, at 596th in the world the lowest-ranked player taking part, said:

'The only weak part was my driver. The rest of the game has been pretty good.

'At certain moments in the round it looked a little bit like the old days.'

Pablo Martin and Thomas Levet, meanwhile, shared last place on 20 over, Martin recovering from his nightmare third round 90 with a 73 and Levet managing a 76 despite slipping on some stairs and bruising his ribs.

That, of course, from the man who broke a leg jumping in a lake to celebrate his French Open victory last July.

Volvo Golf Champions: Branden Grace leads on day two at Fancourt

Grace takes charge at Fancourt as Harrington suffers another day to forget

The lead is still four shots after two rounds of the Volvo Golf Champions at Fancourt in South Africa – but now it is local man Branden Grace rather than Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts out in front.

Grace, last man into the European Tour's winners-only event thanks to his victory at the Joburg Open last Sunday, shot 66 to reach 12 under par.
Colsaerts, on the other hand, had a 76 – 12 more than his course record first round – to drop to joint fifth place.

While that was the joint worst score of the day, the best was a 65 from England's Lee Slattery. And it not only lifted the 33-year-old from 22nd to joint second with Thomas Aiken, another of the home contingent, but also earned him a 25,000 car.

Leading the way: Branden Grace plays a sweet shot at the 18th to finish his day on a high

Leading the way: Branden Grace plays a sweet shot at the 18th to finish his day on a high

Playing partner Retief Goosen (68) received the same prize as they combined with English amateur Mark Vandenberghe to win the one-round team event.

Jose Maria Olazabal almost joined them in winning a car, lipping out for a hole-in-one at the short 17th, but Europe's Ryder Cup captain – at 596th in the world the lowest-ranked player in the 35-strong field – was happy enough with a 68 to be in fourth spot on his own.

Water under the bridge: Padraig Harrington was in cheerful mood despite another woeful day on the course

Water under the bridge: Padraig Harrington was in cheerful mood despite another woeful day on the course

For the second day running, though, Padraig Harrington finished with a double-bogey seven and, having also dropped shots on the previous two holes, the Dubliner's 73 left him with eight shots to make up like Open champion Darren Clarke (68) and England's Tom Lewis (74).

Only last month 23-year-old Grace was at the Tour qualifying school in Spain, but he came through that six-day ordeal in joint 10th place and has been flying ever since.

'I'm just really enjoying it out there,' he said after grabbing eight birdies.

'It's probably my favourite course in the world and coming back here is a fabulous feeling, especially playing well.'

Take a break: Darren Clarke and Charl Schwartzel plan their putts

Take a break: Darren Clarke and Charl Schwartzel plan their putts

Slattery feared he would be at the Tour school as well – in his case for the ninth time – until he won the Madrid Masters in October.

'Winning certainly gives you belief,' said the 33-year-old from Southport after picking up an amazing 10 birdies just as Colsaerts had done in the opening round.

'That's probably my best round out there, one I'm going to remember for the rest of my life.

'Because of the team prize I was willing Retief's putts in as well. God knows what the amateur felt like, but he handled it well.

'I've had about 12 holes-in-one, but have never won a car before. I still might take the money instead, though.'

Digging in deep: Colin Montgomerie misses a putt at the eighth

Digging in deep: Colin Montgomerie misses a putt at the eighth

Olazabal insists that even if he grabs his first victory for seven years on Sunday it will not change his view about September's match in Chicago.

'I've made that point very clear – there is no way,' said the 45-year-old Spaniard.

'Even if I make the Ryder Cup (team) I will not play. I've answered that question.'

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Aiken has an added reason for wanting to come out on top – he is on a campaign to help save the rhino and the more publicity he can get the better.

'I've started my own charity,' he said.

'It's disgusting what's happening. We've got a war going on basically with the east.

'Rhino horns are being valued a million dollars. We've got tractors on the grounds, roadblocks and help from the Air Force because they are shooting them from helicopters now.

'We've got about six years left until they are extinct and if we hang around too long we are going to be too late.'

Colin Montgomerie had been hoping to improve on his opening 70, but instead shot 75 and so will go into the third round only joint 24th – 11 strokes behind.

Nicolas Colsaerts leads Vovlo Golf Champions

Big-hitting Belgian Colsaerts leads Volvo Champions as Lewis stays in touch at Fancourt

Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts leads the Volvo Golf Champions by four strokes after surging clear of the field with a course-record 64 at Fancourt in South Africa.

Padraig Harrington was three behind until he finished with a double-bogey seven that left England's Tom Lewis and home hopes Thomas Aiken and Branden Grace in joint second.

Open champion Darren Clarke managed only a 74, but that was one better than Masters champion Charl Schwartzel in the winners-only 35-man event.

Setting the pace: Nicolas Colsaerts leads after a superb 64 at Fancourt

Setting the pace: Nicolas Colsaerts leads after a superb 64 at Fancourt

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL LEADERBOARD

Even allowing for the small field, Colsaerts' lead after day one was impressive, and there have only ever been seven events in European Tour history where someone has been further in front after 18 holes.

'Exceptional, but so is he,' said Colin Montgomerie of Colsaerts' nine-under-par round. 'He is fantastic – potentially as good as it gets.'

In contention: Tom Lewis shot a 68

In contention: Tom Lewis shot a 68

Despite such praise Colsaerts has only ever tasted victory once in nearly 200 European Tour starts and that will encourage the 34 players left trailing in his wake.

However, Open champion Clarke already
has 10 strokes to make up – he was wearing contact lenses for the first
time, but rustiness was his problem.

Until
he reached the 549-yard 18th Harrington was the one doing his best at
trying to reel Colsaerts in, but a bad drive and three putts led to a
double bogey and a 69.

'Such
is life,' said the Dubliner, 89th in the world and trying to get back
into the top 64 in time for next month's Accenture world match play in
Arizona.

'It was a very comfortable six under for 17 holes, but it's a nasty tee shot and that was a mental error.'

Instead England's Lewis and South Africans Aiken and Grace, who
qualified by winning the Joburg Open on Sunday, share second spot.

Impressed: Colin Montgomerie hailed the performance of playing partner Lewis

Impressed: Colin Montgomerie hailed the performance of playing partner Lewis

Montgomerie played with Lewis and praised his performance. The 21-year-old led The Open last summer – his first-day 65 was the lowest ever round by an amateur in the event – and then won the Portugal Masters on only his third start as a professional.

What particularly impressed Montgomerie was the way Lewis came back from a seven on the long 16th with back-to-back birdies.

'He has every opportunity to make you-know-what come September,' said Montgomerie in reference to the Ryder Cup.

No European has ever gone from Walker Cup to Ryder Cup in a year – Rickie Fowler has done it for the Americans – and Lewis is not dismissing the possibility.

'If I play well there's no reason why not,' said the Welwyn Garden golfer.

Late stumble: Padraig Harrington was going well but double-bogeyed the last

Late stumble: Padraig Harrington was going well but double-bogeyed the last

The day belonged to Colsaerts, though, and perhaps it was no surprise given the sponsors.

His only victory came in the Volvo China Open last April and a month later he was a semi-finalist in their World Match Play Championship in Spain.

The biggest hitter in Europe two seasons ago, he was looking forward to taking on Sandwich last July after finishing third in the Scottish Open the week before, but then came his infamous scooter accident.

After deciding a scooter would be the best way to get about for the week in Kent he tried to jump a kerb because of the traffic and came unstuck.

Hard work: Darren Clarke could only manager a 74 for his first round

Hard work: Darren Clarke could only manager a 74 for his first round

'I tried to hit a few balls, but felt a bit like a clown – I was hitting 160-yard drives,' said the man used to blasting it twice as far.

Colsaerts was out for two months and has not had a top-eight finish since, but nine birdies in the last 11 holes reminded everybody what he is capable of.

He made twos on all four short holes and also birdied four of the five par fives.

A pair of 62s in Indonesia and Holland remain his lowest scores on the European Tour, but he said: 'This is probably the best round I've ever had – it's quite a serious test of golf.'

Volvo Champions: Live leaderboard

Volvo Champions leaderboard: Keep up to date with the scores

The European Tour is at Fancourt in South Africa this week for the Volvo Champions.

Paul Casey triumphed when this event was played in Bahrain last year and you can keep track of all the latest scores right here.

CLICK HERE FOR THE LIVE LEADERBOARD

Winner: Paul Casey finished ahead of everybody else in 2011

Winner: Paul Casey finished ahead of everybody else in 2011

Padraig Harrington happy to wait for next win

Patient Padraig! Harrington happy to wait as Irishman vows to get back to winning ways

Padraig Harrington, down to a shocking 89th in the world, expects to win more majors in his career. Not just hopes to, but expects to.

'That's a big, strong word, but I do – yeah,' the 40-year-old Dubliner said at Fancourt in South Africa, where his season starts with the Volvo Golf Champions.

'I didn't have a great year last year, but it doesn't worry me in the greater scheme of things because I know you just can't win them every year.

Positive Padraig: Harrington is ready to start his season at the Volvo Champions

Positive Padraig: Harrington is ready to start his season at the Volvo Champions

'You have to sit there and be patient and wait for your turn – and, like 2007 and 2008, they all come at once.'

Three years ago Harrington became the first European since 1906 to make a successful defence of the Open, then a month later became the first European to win the USPGA Championship since 1930.

Last season, though, the best he did in the majors was 45th at the US Open and missed cuts at the Masters and Open accelerated his slump down the rankings.

'When you look at Nick Faldo it took him 20-25 years (as a professional) to win six – the most by any European (of modern times).

'I'm not foolish to believe that because I won one in 2007 and two in 2008 I should win three in 2009, or even another one.

Warming up: Harrington in at Fancourt action on Wednesday

Warming up: Harrington in at Fancourt action on Wednesday

'They don't come around that easy. Even in my era the greatest player since I've been a pro – Tiger Woods – has not won one a year. There have been plenty of years he has not won any.

'People have this idea that just because you play well and you win one you should be doing that every year.

'That's the hardest thing. It definitely puts a big burden on anybody who wins a major, it really does. There's a lot of expectation that goes with it.'

Now 15 months on from his last tournament victory, Harrington has done a lot of analysing things and still took positives out of last season.

'I sorted out a neck injury that plagued me for 10 years, then found something in my mental game and got to the bottom of something in my swing which had been annoying me for five years.

Two good: Irishman Harrington has twice won The Open

Two good: Irishman Harrington has twice won The Open

'But the reality is that we are judged by our results – I certainly do when I watch people playing sports – and I have to accept that results last year were poor.'

What he must have found particularly disappointing on realising it was that on the PGA Tour in America he went backwards in every final round, whereas in 2008 he had gone forward every time.

With the world's top four of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer all deciding not to play – they along with Woods start in Abu Dhabi next week – this week is a golden opportunity for him to stop the slide and start climbing again.

A field restricted to European Tour winners since the start of last season and those with 10 or more titles on the circuit is only 35 strong.

With the Ryder Cup in mind as much as anything else, Harrington desperately wants to be back in the world's top 64 for next month's Accenture world match play and the top 50 for the Cadillac world championship in Miami two weeks later.

Big Easy: Another major winner Ernie Els is also in the field at Fancourt

Big Easy: Another major winner Ernie Els is also in the field at Fancourt

A win on Sunday will achieve the first of those, although the cut-off point for Tucson is not for another three weeks.

Defending champion Paul Casey is another absentee, having dislocated his shoulder snowboarding.

Harrington does not criticise the world No 20 for taking to the slopes in Colorado.

'You wouldn't function as a person or a golfer if you don't live your life,' he said.

'Any accident is unfortunate and some people may think why take the risk, but if you sat in a hotel room or at home looking at four walls you wouldn't be a very good golfer. You have to live your life.

'I don't ski because I didn't grow up skiing. If I had I would see no reason not to. I'm not going to take up a sport with inherent dangers, but you shouldn't stop doing the things you love doing.'

Masters champion Charl Schwartzel is the only player in the game's top 25 taking part, but also present is Open champion Darren Clarke, three-major winner Ernie Els and past and present Ryder Cup captains Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal.