Grace Under Fire at Fancourt
By Conor Nagle under European PGA Tour

Branden Grace: Saturday wasn't plain sailing for the youngster.

Thanks to an oddly lopsided third round, during which overnight leader Branden Grace failed to preserve his equanimity and a host of high-profile challengers nudged their way into contention, the final round of the Volvo Golf Champions may well prove worthy of the tournament’s claim to “elite” status.

The at times overwhelming experiences of the last ten days, during which he secured his first European Tour victory and emerged from relative obscurity to take an early lead in the Race to Dubai rankings, finally appear to be catching up with Branden Grace.

The 23-year-old negotiated Fancourt’s 7,300 yards today in a manner strongly at odds with his performance over the opening 36 holes. Conservative and occasionally tentative, where before there had been untrammelled enthusiasm, his two-over-par 75 suggested a player struggling with the inconvenient onset of self-awareness.

Oddly enough, the player who has risen through the ranks to join the South African at the summit of the leaderboard, Nicolas Colsaerts (69), was crippled by a similar bout of insecurity in the early stages of the second round. After opening the tournament with a record-setting 64, the Belgian failed to rediscover his rhythm on Friday, slumping to an outward nine of 40 before rallying late on.

Today, though he opened with a bogey, his play was little short of immaculate. An eagle putt at the last hauled him to 10-under-par and into a share of the overnight lead.

One suspects that neither Grace nor Colsaerts will have failed to notice the world-beating pedigree of the chasing pack. Each of their six closest challengers can lay claim to at least a single major championship.

Both Retief Goosen (70) and Charl Schwartzel (68) are a mere shot behind the leading duo, while double Masters champion José Maria Olazabal (72) sits alone at eight-under-par. Within a further two shots of the Spaniard is another home favourite, Louis Oosthuizen (72), three-time major champion Padraig Harrington (70) and sometime Fancourt resident Ernie Els (71).

1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie (74) lies a shot adrift of Els in a tie for ninth place.

Tellingly, all will begin Sunday’s final round within five shots of overnight lead.

Conor Nagle