HILTON HEAD ISLAND — Branden Grace has had his share of big moments. He believes winning the RBC Heritage is his biggest, by far.
The 27-year-old South African had won 10 times overseas, finished in the top five last year in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, and went 5-0 for the International team at the Presidents Cup. On Sunday, he shot a 5-under 66 to overtake Luke Donald for his first title on the PGA Tour.
“This really puts the cherry on top of the cake,” Grace said. “And I’m excited for things to start.”
Grace earned $1,062,000 and a PGA Tour exemption through the 2017-18 season, which he said was a weight off his mind and will allow him to comfortably contend without worrying about keeping his tour card.
Grace also became the latest to rally past hard-luck leader Donald at Harbour Town Golf Links. The Englishman has finished second four times and third twice in the past eight events here.
Brandt Snedeker shot a final-round 64 to catch Donald and win in a playoff in 2011. Matt Kuchar shot a 64 in 2014, overtaking Donald for the win with a chip-in from the bunker on the 72nd hole.
Donald said Saturday after taking a one-shot lead he’d need to be aggressive and make birdies. That did not happen. He settled for pars on the opening six holes, while Grace moved in front with four birdies on the same stretch.
Donald got to 8 under with a birdie on the seventh hole, then quickly gave it back on No. 8 when he drove in the water and took bogey.
He caught Grace one final time with a ninth-hole birdie, but could not keep up with the South African.
“I think I’ve got to put myself three or four behind on Sunday,” Donald said. “Leading doesn’t seem to be working out for me.”
Although Donald earned $519,200 and moved past five-time RBC Heritage champion Davis Love III for second in tournament winnings here with $3,063,520.
Bryson DeChambeau, the former SMU star who won the NCAA and U.S. Amateur last year, tied for fourth in his first event since turning pro, four shots behind Grace after a 68. Kevin Na was tied with DeChambeau after a 69.
Top-ranked Jason Day rebounded from a season-worst 79 on Saturday with a 68 to tie for 23rd at 1 under. He now gets a week off before returning to play at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, starting on April 28. He said he’ll use the time to refresh his mind and improve his fitness, which he said got a bit loose during this last run of tournament golf.
Not that it hurt him on the course. In the past month, Day won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the World Golf Championship’s Dell Match Play event. He tied for 10th at the Masters and shared the 36-hole lead at Harbour Town until his third-round blow up.
His finish was his third round in the 70s this week. “A lot of positive stuff” at the tournament, Day said. “I’ve just got to get back, just rest my mind, rest my body and try and get back in the swing of things.”
Divots: No 9s on this card: Ernie Els closed with a 66, his lowest round since finishing the final round of the 2013 WGC-HSBC Champions event with the same score. … Jason Bohn closed with a 77 and finished 11 over in his first event back since his heart attack in February. … Heard on course: When a hawk soared overhead with something in its talons on the 16th fairway, Seung-Yul Noh asked if it was a ball. “It’s a fish,” playing partner Jerry Kelly replied.
Grace has already fashioned a very accomplished career. He’s 14th in the world ranking and three of his seven career wins on the European Tour have come since 2015.
“I can tick this one off the box and head into the next couple of majors trying to win it,” he said. “I have one notch, I’ve done it before and I can do it again.”
Grace trailed leader Luke Donald by three shots when the round began, but wiped out that deficit by the turn with five birdies. Grace took the lead for good with consecutive birdies on 12 and 13.
He overcame a final challenge on the 16th hole, rolling in a 12-foot par putt to maintain a three-shot lead. A hole behind, Donald lipped out a birdie try. He could get no closer.
Grace finished at 9-under 275, two shots ahead of Donald and Russell Knox. Donald shot a 71, and Knox had a 67.