GRACE FORCED TO WD WITH INJURY; STATUS UNCERTAIN FOR UPCOMING EVENTS
Written by MIKE McALLISTER
BANGKOK, Thailand – Branden Grace entered Saturday’s second round of the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok with a share of the lead and a chance to catch Dustin Johnson atop the season-long individual points race.
Three holes into his round, he was forced to withdraw with an acute muscle strain on his left side, leaving his status in doubt for next week’s event in Jeddah, where the Individual Champion will be decided and its $30 million purse distributed to the top three players.
It's a cruel blow for the 34-year-old South African, the winner in Portland and one of the most consistent performers this inaugural season. It’s also a tough blow for his all-South African Stinger GC team, which loses its top performer and will finish the Bangkok event by counting the scores of each of its remaining three players.
"He’s been playing such great golf," Norris said. "Hitting the ball well. Been playing practice rounds and with him and really impressed with the way he’s playing. Hopefully he gets back to it and healthy as soon as possible."
With the season coming to a conclusion this month, the big question is whether Grace will be able to return not only for Jeddah but also the $50 million Team Championship in Miami on Oct. 28-30. Stinger GC is currently second in the team standings and in position to secure a first-day bye in an event that pays $16 million to the winning team.
The injury could be costly for Grace if he is unable to return.
He came into this week in second place in the Individual standings with 79 points, 39 behind Johnson at 118. With tournament winners receiving 40 points, Grace could have taken a one-point lead with a win and a bottom 24 finish for Johnson (only players finishing in the top 24 receive points). Johnson entered Saturday’s round tied for 21st while Grace was the co-leader with Eugenio Chacarra and Richard Bland.
Instead, Grace will receive no points for this week and will remain at 79. He was 24 points ahead of No. 3 Cam Smith in the season standings.
"Branden, he’s a good guy, a world class player – you don’t want to see that," said Bland, one of his playing partners Saturday. "If you want to win things, you want to win them fair and square. You know he would’ve been right in the mix. He’s a great front-runner. I feel for the guy."
Depending on the results in Bangkok, Grace could stay inside the top three going into Jeddah. Even if that happens, if he can’t play next week, his podium position will be in jeopardy. Only the top three players in the final points standings receive portions from the $30 million bonus purse – $18 million to the winner, $8 million to second, and $4 million to third.
In addition, there could be a substantial impact on Stinger GC, who will carry on this weekend with captain Louis Oosthuizen, London winner Charl Schwartzel and Shaun Norris. After Saturday's round, the Stingers were in last place on the team leaderboard.
"He’s a crucial part, especially after playing so nicely yesterday," Norris said. "It’s just the three of us and we’re gonna have to try and put a score together."
Asked about Grace’s status for Jeddah, his physiotherapist Cornel Driessen said, “Chances are slim, but we first have to do a thorough investigation. It might be a slight strain, but if there’s a small tear, no chance. We’ll see.”
Grace first noticed something might be wrong while on the range Saturday, but he managed to birdie the opening hole to move to 8 under. The injury became worse after his tee shot on the second hole. On his ensuing approach shot, he grabbed his left side near his ribs and asked for an ice bag. He finished the hole with a par.
"He hit his tee shot off the first and seemed OK," Bland said. "Hits it pretty much stiff. Hit his tee shot at the second and looked like he was struggling. He could hardly pull the trigger after that."
At the 191-yard par-3 third, he opted to use a 4-iron instead of his usual choice of 7-iron. Although obviously in pain, he continued to play, and nearly rolled in his birdie putt. But after finishing with a par, he received treatment from Driessen and a local medical crew while lying near the third green and was simply unable to continue.
He was then taken off property to a medical facility for an MRI.
“It’s very likely a strained intercostal muscle or oblique muscle,” Driessen said. “If he keeps on swinging, it makes it worse. We don’t want to risk long-time injury or damage.”
"I’ve had a few side strains before and they’re nasty," Bland said. "All you can basically do is rest."