Rolling the dice: South Africa’s Branden Grace to headline the Venetian Macao Open
World number 14 to join Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke and defending champion Scott Hend at US$1.1 million event
World number 14 Branden Grace is expected to be unveiled today (Tuesday) as the star attraction of the US$1.1 million Venetian Macao Open.
The 28-year-old South African will come to the October 13 to 16 tournament at the Macau Golf and Country Club fresh from his first season on the US PGA Tour, where he has won once and earned US$2.8 million in prize money.
Grace finished fourth behind American Jimmy Walker at last month’s PGA Championship at the Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey.
That made it four top-10 finishes in the past seven majors for Grace, earmarked now as the man “most likely”, and the South African left Baltusrol agreeing he felt it was only a matter of time before a breakthrough would come in one of the world’s most prestigious events.
“When I tee it up now, I feel I can win a major,” Grace said. “I know I can do it.”
Grace took no time settling in to life on the PGA Tour, claiming a two-stroke win over Luke Donald and Russell Knox at the RBC Heritage in April for his breakthrough win.
That result followed the successful defence of the Qatar Masters in January, Grace’s seventh title on the European Tour.
Grace made history in 2012 by becoming the first player to win his first four European Tour events in the same year, victories that included the Volvo China Open in Tianjin and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.
The Macau tournament is now the richest event solely organised by the Asian Tour. Prize money has risen for the fourth straight year – up US$100,000 – and the boost has already been welcomed by two-time winner Scott Hend of Australia.
“I love playing in Macau anyway but the extra prize money has me licking my chops a bit,” said defending champion Hend. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not counting the money already but I feel I have a pretty good chance.”
The big-hitting Aussie will be feeling even better about his chances now after he was just denied, by a 30-foot putt on the first hole of a play-off, by Alex Noren of Sweden at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland on Sunday.
Hend, 43, has won twice already on the Asian Tour this season, to go with four top-10 finishes, and has overtaken countryman Marcus Fraser in the order of merit with earnings of US$714,112.
Hend, a nine-time Asian Tour champion and the most successful international golfer in the region, banked US$337,230 in Switzerland.
Also coming to Macau is 2011 Open Championship winner Darren Clarke, the Ulsterman jetting in just 10 days after leading Europe into battle against the Americans in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.
“The Macau Open will be the first chance I will have to get back in to my real job and by then there’s no doubt I’ll be ready to get back out there and getting on with the next stage of my career,” said the 47-year-old, who last played in Macau in 1999.