UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Ernie Els played two practice rounds with Branden Grace at the beginning of the week and knew that his fellow countryman had a good chance of contending at the U.S. Open because Grace can hit the ball low with his driver and it will run for miles on Chambers Bay’s fast, firm fairways.
“He’s got the all-around game for this place,” Els said.
“We all dream of this and we all practice for this, so it’s a matter of fact if you grab it or you don’t,” Grace said. “I played really good today under the pressure.”
Grace, 27, has six European Tour wins to his credit – including two this season – and is ranked No. 40 in the Official World Golf Ranking, but he’s never been in this position in a major championship. Not even close. He’s played in 12 majors, has missed five cuts and his highest finish is an 18th-place tie at the 2013 Masters.
Playing with Johnson, Grace quietly maneuvered his way through the day without too many highs or lows. He did make three bogeys in a five-hole stretch (Nos. 9-13) but he opened with birdies on the fifth and eighth holes and made another on the par-5 15th hole that moved him into a tie for the lead for the rest of the day.
Sunday, however, will be a spotlight Grace has never experienced before. He’s playing in the day’s penultimate group alongside Spieth.
“I’m stoked. I can’t wait,” Grace said. “To go into a tournament like the U.S. Open, having a chance to win my first major is something special.”