PGA Tour

Grateful Grace grinds toward top of PGA Championship leaderboard

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South African golfer Branden Grace (Getty Images)
South African golfer Branden Grace (Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images/AFP

South Africa's Branden Grace says he can feel his late father's presence with him as he battles the gusting winds of Kiawah Island's Ocean Course at the PGA Championship.

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And whether it's an unseen assist or simply stellar shotmaking, the 33-year-old from Pretoria finds himself in contention for his first major title.

Grace fired a one-under par 71 on Friday to stand alongside compatriot Christiaan Bezuidenhout on three-under 141 after 36 holes, two behind leader Phil Mickelson and fellow countryman Louis Oosthuizen.

Grace, who missed last year's PGA after contracting Covid-19, lost his father Peter to Covid-19 in January, calling his dad the rock in his life.

When Grace won his first PGA title in five years at the Puerto Rico Open in February, he dedicated the emotional victory to his father.

"I believe that what happened, the sadness, there's a lot of good to follow," Grace said on Friday.

"I know my old man is with me. He's out there grinding it as well. So I'm just playing golf. I'm enjoying it and nice to have the family out there just to stay calm on the other side of it."

Grace had endured a five-year victory drought since taking his only other PGA title, at the 2016 Heritage tournament, played only an hour's drive south of where this week's major showdown is staged.

Grace fired the lowest round in major golf history with a 62 at the 2017 Open Championship, going eight-under par at Royal Birkdale.

And the world number 92 has no doubt he belongs among the game's elite.

"I believe I should be out here. I believe I should be a top-30 player in the world and I believe I should win. It was nice to get over that hurdle again," Grace said.

"I've contended in these big events before. There's no reason why I can't contend in them now, especially around a golf course like this. It's just literally getting the ball low, getting it on the ground and letting it run and be creative around the greens and really commit to what you want to do."

Grace birdied the par-5 second and seventh holes, chipped in from 70 feet to birdie the par-4 10th and birdied 13 before finding water off the tee at the par-3 17th and stumbling to a double bogey-bogey finish.

"It's tough. I was grinding out there. Trying to stay alive. I knew I was playing well and just kind of waiting for that one bad thing to happen," Grace said.

"Even with that bad couple of holes, I still got the most out of my round."

Preparing for the worst

Grace has worked with a psychologist to handle hardships on the course - like hitting into the water on 17 - and how to better shake them off and refocus on his round.

"I've worked hard mentally with my psychologist and just preparing for the worst - if it happens, just getting on with it - and I've done that pretty well so far," Grace said.

"Mentally, I don't think I did anything wrong. I stood up there, I picked my target, I hit the shot that I wanted to, but it just didn't come off. You have to move on, get to the drop zone, and carry on.

"I'm probably going to have a few more scenarios like that over the weekend if it carries on playing as tough as it does. I just need to back myself up, trust myself, and just hit the shots that I see."

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