Richard on the mend in Dubai

Richard Sterne has clearly overcome a back injury, which caused him to rest throughout the 2011 season, and shot an opening 66 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on Thursday.

The 30-year-old looked unhindered as he cruised to six-under, took a share of fourth and closed the first round three strokes shy of an impeccable 63 from leader Rafael Cabrera-Bello.

Sterne took sixth place at the Africa Open after announcing his return to the limelight with a third-round 64. He did, however, claim to still have trouble with his back. While he may not have relived his victory at the 2008 Africa Open, his share of sixth was a promising sign of a return to form.

His opening 66 at the Dubai Desert Classic began with a wobble and a bogey at the second. But he soldiered on and made birdie at the 519-metre, par-five third hole. Further birdies at the seventh and the ninth strengthened his resolve before he turned at three-under.

He hit the back stretch with guns blazing and carded birdies at the 10th and 11th, which put the leaders within his sights as he made his way back to the clubhouse.

His second nine, much like his first, contained two birdies in its closing stages – he birdied the 16th and 18th to close the par-37 back stretch in just 33 blows.

Bloemfontein’s Jbe Kruger took advantage of starting at the par-five 10th and began his round with birdie, which gave him the confidence to shrug off a bogey at the 12th. He went on to birdie the 14th and 18th for a two-under-par front nine.

He roared into his second nine with birdies at the first, third and fourth, but stumbled soon after, carding drops at the fifth and eighth to close the round at three-under. Making his way round in 69 set Kruger into a share of 20th, but he will be disappointed that he could not eliminate mistakes during the latter stages of his round.

Jaco van Zyl finished a further stroke back at two-under. He may not have produced the same fireworks as Sterne, but should be pleased with his solid start to the event.

Sterne’s six-under tally is a solid foundation and indicates that his skill has not dwindled, yet his endurance is yet to be tested as he heads towards the weekend.

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