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Golf | SA

Branden Grace © Gallo Images

Durban first for defending champ Grace



Branden Grace, who won four times last year after graduating from the European Tour's Qualifying School, will venture into uncharted territory at the Volvo Golf Champions event in South Africa starting on Thursday.

The South African has never gone into a tournament as defending champion and this week in Durban he faces strong competition from a field including major winners Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen, Jose Maria Olazabal and Paul Lawrie.

"I've never defended a title before so this is another first for me," the 24-year-old Grace told the tour's official website (www.europeantour.com) on Monday.

"I know there's going to be a lot of hype around the event but that's just one of the things I will have to deal with."

Grace, who also won the Dunhill Links Championship, the Joburg Open and China Open in 2012, lifted the Volvo Champions title in George, South Africa, last January after beating compatriots Els and Goosen in a playoff.

"Winning last year was absolutely awesome," he said. "I always thought I'd be a tough man to beat on the Fancourt links where I grew up playing the game.

"Everything went my way, a little bit of local knowledge kicked in and the way it finished made the week even better. I never would have dreamed of beating Ernie and Retief in a playoff so managing to do that was the cherry on the top," added Grace.

"I had literally only just finished my round and they pushed me straight back on to the tee. The only difference was that there was now two of my biggest idols and two of the greatest players in South African golf standing next to me."

Ryder Cup pair Nicolas Colsaerts and Francesco Molinari will also be chasing the first prize of €350 000 at the Durban Country Club this week.

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