Franklin/Getty ImagesBranden Grace’s first trip to Firestone comes gift-wrapped with a pairing with Tiger Woods.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio — The 2012 season has been a year of firsts for South African Branden Grace.
He won his first European Tour event, then made sure no one could say it was a fluke by winning two more. Grace played in his first World Golf Championships event in March and he will be making his debut in another this week at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Oh, and did we mention that he’ll be playing with Tiger Woods for the first time during the first two rounds at Firestone? Grace could hardly believe his good fortune.
"I’ve heard a rumor at the beginning of the week that that’s what they’re going to try to do because we’re the only two guys that’s won three times in the year," Grace said. "But I didn’t really think it was going to happen. But it’s unreal. He’s my idol. He’s been my role model since I started playing golf.
“Tomorrow is a little bit of a dream come true."
Woods says he had seen Grace play but he can’t recall every meeting the 24-year-old.
"He’s really played well," Woods said. "I don’t know Branden at all, so it’ll be fun to get out there and chitchat a little bit with him and get to know him. … It’ll be a good next couple days for us. I know I am looking forward to it, and hopefully he is, as well."
Grace got a little taste of the kind of crowds he’ll face on Thursday when he played in his — yes, you guessed it – first U.S. Open earlier this summer. His partner during the final round at the Olympic Club was none other than Phil Mickelson.
"There was huge crowds and things like that,” Grace said. “Obviously I played with Mickelson there, as well, so I think the experience is there, and obviously you’re going to have a little bit of pressure playing with Woods, but something you just have to deal with."
Grace was playing the Challenge Tour a year ago. He finished 23rd on the money list, which was three spots shy of receiving his European Tour card. He prevailed in q-school, though, and wasted no time making his mark — winning twice in his first three European Tour starts and adding a thir at the Volvo China Open in April.
"It just shows you how much a year can change in such a short while," Grace said. "I promise you at the end of the last year I wouldn’t have dreamt of playing with Tiger first two rounds in the Bridgestone. It’s one of those. But it shows you if you stick your head down and keep grinding and keep playing, you never know what can happen."