Branden Grace plots his course to U.S. Open entry

2012-05-24 00:00

SOMERSET WEST — Despite three European Tour wins this season, Branden Grace has not yet qualified for the U.S. Open, but his path has been made clearer by the large number of ranking points on offer at the BMW PGA Championship.

With the winner taking at least 64 points this week, the easiest route for Grace is through the €4,5 million (R47,75 million) tournament, which starts today at the Wentworth Club.

The 24-year-old is currently No. 66 in the world rankings after climbing 205 places since the beginning of the year.

And he will have eyes on the European Tour’s premiere world ranking points event this week, where a good result will secure a top-60 spot in the rankings and subsequent entry to the U.S. Open.

May 21, one day after Grace’s 24th birthday, marked the first cutoff for exemption to the U.S. Open based on world ranking position. Every player in the top-60 on May 21 earned an invitation. On June 11 the opportunity will arise again.

There are qualifying tournaments for the U.S. Open, and the two Grace could enter are in England on May 28 or in the United States on June 4.

But it’s unlikely that the youngster will be keen to have to play the international qualifier if he can avoid it.

And that brings him back to June 11, when he will need to have made the top 60 in the world ranking. A win at the BMW PGA would secure a spot for Grace, but that’s an outside shot for him to count on.

What he will instead be looking for is a piece of the ranking-points pie. And the kind of field that plays at the BMW PGA boosts the points significantly.

Grace had a huge effect on the latest Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament — having just one player from the world’s top 100 in the field doubled the points on offer.

The BMW PGA is a different kettle of fish — 16 of the world’s top 50, including the top three, will compete.

And just to spice things up, there are also eight major champions in the field. What that means is that the George local could capitalise on big points, but it will be no mean feat.

Yet his season thus far has shown that he shines when least expected. His win at the Joburg Open in January saw him into the Volvo Champions tournament, where the field contained only European Tour winners from the last calendar year. Yet Grace, the youngest of the lot, took his second win when he overtook his heroes, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.

At the Volvo China Open Grace was simply too good for the field, and he cruised to a three-stroke victory, marking him as only the sixth player ever to win three times in one European Tour season. So he is not looking like an outside shot for U.S. Open entry.

Entries to the U.S. Open are given to the top five players in the Race to Dubai, provided they have not yet qualified.

While the field is overwhelmingly strong, Grace has shown that he belongs there, and in much the same way he belongs at the U.S. Open. All that lies between Grace and the year’s second major is a good result at the Wentworth Club.

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