Sterne gets back in the winner’s circle in Johannesburg

Richard Sterne fired a stunning final round 64 en route to his first European Tour win since 2008, taking the Joburg Open by seven shots over Charl Schwartzel. It’s the sixth European Tour victory for Sterne, but his first since the South African Open in December of 2008.
What happened
Sterne entered Sunday’s final round tied for the lead at 17-under par with fellow South African Trevor Fisher Jnr, who was looking for his first win as a professional outside of the Sunshine Tour. Fisher started out hot, making an eagle on the opening hole, but it was all downhill from there. Fisher finished with a 1-under par 71 on Sunday, which was the worst final round score of anyone who finished inside the top-15. Sterne’s 64 tied him for low round of the day with Ricardo Santos, and allowed him to set the new scoring record for this event at 27-under par, besting the previous mark set by Schwartzel in 2010 when he got to 23-under par. Sterne also became the first player since Tiger Woods in 2002 to drop only one shot in an officially sanctioned European Tour event.
Notes about Sterne and the win
Sterne was in contention last week as well, carrying the lead in Dubai at the midway point before finishing as the runner-up to Stephen Gallacher. When you combine that with his past success at the course, where he won this event in 2008 and finished tied for 3rd at the 2002 Vodacom Golf Classic, you can’t be surprised that he found his way back to the winner’s circle this week. It’s been a long road back for Sterne, who missed most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons due to a severe back injury. He had some good finishes last year, and it’s easy to forget that before the injuries, Sterne was ranked inside the top-30 in the world. Sterne won three events in 2008 and looked to be one of the rising stars in the game until he was forced to sit out. Sterne had three bulging discs in his back, and was diagnosed with¬†ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis which basically prevented him from making any kind of movement. Thanks to all of the injuries, Sterne actually fell just past the 1000 mark in the world, a miraculous fall for someone with his kind of talent.
It’s tough to predict where Sterne goes from here, but it’s certainly not out of the question that he returns to being a force on the European Tour. With the win, he moves inside the top-60 in the world rankings, and is currently slated to play in the WGC-Match Play in a couple of weeks. If he can stay hot and get into the top-50, he’ll earn a spot in the Masters, where he hasn’t played since 2009.
Other notes from the event

  • Despite finishing seven shots behind Sterne, you’d have to think Charl Schwartzel is happy with the result. He hadn’t played since December, but with the runner-up finish, he’s placed inside the top-5 in each of his last five events.
  • A pair of solid finishes once again for George Coetzee and Ricardo Santos. For Coetzee, he’s close and he will get that first win at some point in 2013, and Santos has quietly put together a solid start to his season after winning the European Tour Rookie of the Year in 2012. He’s really only had one poor event since missing the cut in Singapore back in November.
  • Not sure what happened to Branden Grace this week, as the defending champion missed the cut after rounds of 72 and 70. It’s probably just a blip on the radar for him, but considering his form and track record here, I’m shocked that he finished as poorly as he did.
  • Decent finish as well for 2010 U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein who ended up tied for 19th. Uihlein shocked some people when he decided to come over to Europe to play professionally after missing out on his PGA Tour card, but after a pretty good year on the European Challenge Tour, Uihlein could be poised to make some moves in 2013.

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