Branden Grace has confirmed he will defend his Commercial Bank Qatar Masters title in January 2016, when the in-form South African believes he’ll return as a “more consistent” player than 10 months ago.
Grace jumped from 79 in the world to 44 after his Doha success and is now 15th after a stunning season in which he finished fourth (shared) and third in two of the last three Majors and third in The European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
In October, he won all five of his matches in The Presidents Cup to become only the second International player to achieve such a feat. Earlier this month he finished fifth in Shanghai at the year’s final World Golf Championships event and last week he was third at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, The European Tour’s season finale.
Now, the six-time European Tour winner is already looking forward to his fifth straight Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and will aim to become the first player to retain the title at Doha Golf Club, which will host the event’s 19th edition from January 27-30.
“Yeah, I think I’ve got the game to do it and I’ve been more consistent this year. Going back there will be great,” said Grace, the fourth South African to win the event since it was first held in 1998.
“It’s one of those courses that really got me going this year and got my career going again, so it will be nice to go back and defend. After a break over the festive season, I should be ready to go when I come out to Doha.”
Last January, Grace rose to the occasion in Qatar, when he eagled the par-four 16th and birdied the par-five last for a closing 66 to beat Marc Warren by one. His Doha triumph was flanked by two titles in South Africa, starting with last December’s Alfred Dunhill Championship, the second event of the 2015 European Tour.
Grace, 27, is determined to retain the Mother of Pearl Trophy in the hope that a victory will spur another outstanding year.
“Last season was really good. I started off well with a great win at the Dunhill and got the kick-start from that, then Qatar was just a great win,” Grace said, who won four times on European Tour in his rookie season in 2012.
“Qatar was one of my best playing wins. Coming down the stretch, I knew things had to happen and I made it happen. That was key and lifted the spirits for the remainder of the season.”
With confidence renewed, Grace’s game has reached a new level of consistency over the past year. In his last 31 ranking events stretching back to November 2014, he has secured 21 top-20 finishes, including 11 top-10s – his latest coming courtesy of a tied eighth place finish in the season-opening Alfred Dunhill Championship last week.
Grace’s game has also progressed to the point where he has become a regular contender at the Majors.
At the US Open in June, he shared the third-round lead with Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, finishing joint-fourth just two shots behind champion Spieth. After tying for 20th at The Open Championship in Scotland in July, he was third at the following month’s US PGA Championship behind Day and Spieth, Grace’s best-ever result in a Major.
“I’ve been showing a little more class in the big events. I just need to be patient. All of us really want to win Majors, but you can try to push for it too hard,” Grace said.
“I stayed patient at the US Open and got close. Then I tried a little bit too hard at the British and that just really showed me that you can’t push out there for those big ones. At PGA, I was close again; a lot more relaxed, a lot more patient, and I think that’s been a big key.”
Although yet to capture a Major, Grace has long shown the ability to close out, winning all six of his European Tour titles after leading or sharing the lead after 54 holes.
Looking ahead to the 19th Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, Grace said he would again employ a tactic that he has used successfully before – watching videos of previous wins.
“Yeah, definitely. You just want to try to relive those moments and get those vibes going. I’ve done it through my whole career, through all my victories,” Grace said.
“I’m excited. I like Qatar, I like playing there and it’s treated me well so far, so hopefully it’s going to be good.”
Qatar Golf Association president Hassan al-Nuaimi said: “Branden Grace has proved to be one of the sport’s most exciting players this year since he won the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in January. We are delighted to welcome Branden back to Qatar, and wish him the best of luck in his campaign to become the first-ever player to win back to back titles here at Doha Golf Club.”
Tickets, which start at QAR150, are available at a range of outlets including Virgin Megastores (online and in-store in Doha), Ticket Master, Time Out Tickets, Q Tickets, Doha Golf Club, ILQ Tickets, Radisson Blu Hotel and Doha Rugby Football Club.
Entry is free for children under 14 years of age and each ticket purchased entitles the holder to one free roundtrip journey to and from the Doha Golf Club by event partner Uber.