RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico (AP) — Branden Grace closed eagle-birdie Sunday to win the Puerto Rico Open, an emotional triumph following his father’s January death after a month-long fight with the coronavirus.
Grace holed out from a greenside bunker for eagle on the par-4 17th and birdied the par-5 18th for a one-stroke victory over Jhonattan Vegas at windy Grand Reserve.
“This morning I had a tear in the car when I was talking to my wife,” Grace said about father Peter. “It was an emotional day. I thought about him a hell of a lot out there, especially the last tee shot. I was really struggling the last hole, because I knew he was watching over me. I knew he was guiding me.”
The 32-year-old South African player won for the second time on the PGA Tour and 13th worldwide, closing with a 6-under 66 to finish at 19-under 269.
“It’s been a very tough couple of years and a tough couple of months and it’s just nice to — obviously, with all the support back home with my wife and my son and my family and everybody back home,” Grace said. “And all that we have been through, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Vegas, from Venezuela, birdied the 18th in a 65. Puerto Rican player Rafael Campos and Grayson Murray, tied for the third-round lead, each shot 70 to tie for third at 16 under.
Grace drove into the right bunker on the 17th, the hole playing 300 yards to the front of the green with the tees moved well forward.
“That was a tough bunker shot,” Grace said. “And to play it perfectly, just get it with just enough check and managed to get it to roll out and 5 or 6 feet to go, I knew it was in. So, that was obviously fortunate.”
He also hit into a greenside bunker on 18, flopped out to 6 feet and made the winning putt.
“The only thing you can’t do on 18 is hit it left,” Grace said. “I managed to hit a great drive, and I wasn’t going to go left. I pulled my second. And I knew if I could get it maybe front edge or in the bunker, then I’m going to give myself opportunity. And fortunately I was in the second bunker, so I could really just get it up on the slope and just get it to run out a little bit and manage to play perfectly.:
The tournament was played opposite the World Golf Championship event in Florida. Grace earned a two-year PGA Tour exemption and a spot in the PGA Championship in May, but not the Masters in April.
Campos had his third top-10 finish in his home event. He tied for eighth in 2016 and tied for 10th in 2017. He parred the final three after rebounding from bogeys on 10 and 11 with birdies on 12, 13 and 15.
“I can seal the deal. I know I can,” Campos said. “It just didn’t happen today. I didn’t have my best game out here, but I still managed to give myself a real opportunity of winning the tournament. I think it’s just getting myself more opportunities and it will happen eventually.”
Needing an eagle to catch Grace on 18 after birdieing 17, Murray hooked his drive into the trees, took an unplayable lie and made a bogey.
Brice Garnett (65 ) and Andrew Putnam (69) were 15 under.