Champions ready for action in Durban
Before the gloves come off on Thursday, the exclusive 33-man field for this year’s Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club let their hair down and posed for an official photograph in front of the lighthouse at The Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga on Wednesday evening.
On Thursday, though, South Africa’s Branden Grace will launch his title defence against a line-up that not only includes 21 of the world’s top 100 players, but 32 players that share seven Major titles, 205 European Tour and 45 PGA Tour titles and more than 300 international professional titles.
But the opposition is not denting Grace’s confidence.
“I've never defended a title before, so it's another first for me,” said the 24-year-old. “I know there's going to be a lot of hype around the event when I get there, but that's just one of those things I will have to deal with and I'm sure I'll enjoy it."
Grace launched to 34th in the world after winning five times in 2012. Following his maiden European Tour win at the Joburg Open, Grace also lifted the Volvo Golf Champions, Volvo China Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship titles, as well as the winning the Sunshine Tour’s Vodacom Origins of Golf at Fancourt.
Among some of the players who will look to dash the Knysna golfer's hopes are former major champions Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Louis Oosthuizen, Paul Lawrie and Darren Clarke, as well as European Ryder Cup team captain José María Olazábal and stars Nicolas Colsaerts and Francesco Molinari.
However, Grace is confident he has the ability and the maturity to compete under considerable pressure.
"I know for a fact that I'm a better player than I used to be, so I'm up for the test of trying to defend my title. It's going to be a new experience for me, so we'll see how I cope with it and hopefully I can come away with another win to start the year in style," said Grace.