It may be his third appearance at Augusta National, but there seems to be a little bit of the air of a rookie about Richard Sterne ahead of the Masters.
That’s only to observers, of course. Sterne is nothing if not laid back, and his share of 25th in his maiden journey shows that he has the playing tools to cope with the course. Now it’s simply a question of dealing with the occasion.
It’s that low-key approach to tournaments that is going to work in his favour as the Masters gets underway tomorrow, and South African fans remember vividly the last display of Sterne being ultra-cool under pressure.
He won the Joburg Open by seven strokes from Charl Schwartzel when the 2011 Masters champion was, by general agreement, one of the hottest golfers on the planet after Schwartzel had won his last two tournaments by a staggering 11 strokes and 12 strokes.
In the Joburg Open, Sterne made one bogey all week on Royal Johannesburg and Kensington’s intimidating East Course, having opened up with a sparkling eight-under-par 63 on the West Course. He then carded 65-68-64 to shut out Schwartzel, who didn’t do too much wrong himself with four rounds in the 60s of his own.
The ease with which he appeared to win the Joburg Open reminded those who remember the early days of his rise to prominence, when many pundits predicted he would be ‘the next big thing’ in South African golf.
Two frustrating years of back problems saw Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen overtake him – although they were always cut from the same cloth – but his return to form was as emphatic as the man himself is laid back.
Sterne, 31, is back among the world’s elite after the injury-riddled years. He started this year with a runner-up spot in the Dubai Desert Classic, and then followed that victory at the European Tour’s Joburg Open. He finished 12th in his last PGA Tour start, at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, before returning home to play two Sunshine Tour events.
Those are the bald facts about Sterne ahead of his ninth attempt at a major. Once he was sure he was in, he made his way over to the US and spent some time practicing with Oosthuizen and Schwartzel – two players who know their way around Augusta.
And perhaps it’s no coincidence that Schwartzel won his green jacket after he took his second Joburg Open title. After he won the Joburg Open for a second time, you can bet that Sterne thinks it might be an omen.