Last year, Richard Sterne went into the final round of the Joburg Open level on 19-under-par with Trevor Fisher Jnr. And then he simply ran away with the tournament with a closing eight-under-par 64.
It’s that ability to go low – and go low consistently – that makes Sterne one of the early favourites for the 2014 Joburg Open which tees off at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington on Thursday.
The 210 players in the €1.3-million tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour, is played over the West and East courses of Royal Johannesburg and Kensington. After a round on each of them, the field is cut to the top 65 players and those tied on that score, and the final two rounds are played on the East Course.
“It was an enjoyable round,” recalled Sterne of his 2013 triumph. “I shot 64 with no bogeys, and anytime you are in contention or leading and you do that it’s special. It showed good quality golf – I struck it well and made a lot of good putts.”
And it wasn’t as if he was alone in going low in that final round: Portugal’s Ricardo Santos matched his 64 to finish third, and Keith Horne went deep with his seven-under-par 65 too to share sixth.
But Fisher, after his brilliant nine-under-par 62 on the West Course in the second round last year, showed just how important consistency is when he held things together with a 68 in the third round, but slipped out of contention with a closing one-over-par 73.
Sterne is just one of many top-flight South African players who cut their amateur teeth with regular forays over Royal Johannesburg and Kensington. “It’s a place I enjoy. I’ve won here twice, so I must like it,” he said. “Something happens here that brings out the best in me, so hopefully it happens again.
“It’s a good driving golf course and that’s one of the strong points of my game. I like the whole layout. The West Course is enjoyable and it’s a fun track where you can shoot some good numbers. The East, if you play well, then you can do the same, but if you don’t play well it can bite you.
“It’s going to be quite wet this year with the rain they’ve had over the last few days, so that will lengthen it a bit. The greens will be quite soft, but perhaps it will dry up a bit towards the weekend,” he added.
Even with the course wet after some heavy rains, Sterne managed to go low during Tuesday’s pro-am: “I made seven birdies and an eagle, so it was nice. The eagle was at the sixth – I went just left of the green and chipped it in,” he said. “But it’s Tuesday, so it means nothing.”
Last year, seven players in the top 15 had four consecutive scores lower than 70. It might take that kind of effort to stop Sterne from becoming the first three-time winner of the Joburg Open.