Sterne flies into Joburg Open lead with eagle on nine

Richard Sterne started his campaign in the Joburg Open on Thursday in similar vein to his fast start in Dubai last week as he raced to an eight-under-par 63 to take the early lead in the €1.3-million tournament.

Sterne opened with a 62 in Dubai as he finished second, and he is hoping to replicate his 2008 win at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington as he lit up the scoreboard on the par-71 West Course with six birdies and an eagle.

And with three days ahead of him on the tougher East Course, playing at a par of 72 this year, he’s hoping memories of 2008 will fuel him: “I had three good rounds around the East Course that year,” he said. “If I can do that now I’ll have a chance on Sunday.”

The eagle on the 507-metre (554-yard) ninth was clearly an important contributor to his fast start. “I hit a good drive and then a very good four-iron, pitched a foot short of the green,” he said.” The pin was only six feet on and I chipped it on, a little chip and run, and it went straight in, which was quite nice.”

Sterne had a stellar 2008, winning the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit and all three events which were con-sanctioned by the European Tour in South Africa at that time – including the South African Open Championship.

But a back injury plagued him for the next three years, and he made a cautious return to European Tour action in 2012. A second-place finish in the Wales Open signalled his return, as did his performance in Dubai last week, topped only by a deflating eagle by winner Stephen Gallacher on the 16th.

He has been putting superbly, and when his game comes together as it did on the West Course, he’s a tough customer. “I hit 17 greens today, so I was never really in trouble at all,” he said. “Some days it feels good and everything kind of happens. Golf is strange – you’ve got to hit the right kind of shots at the right time.”

He led by one from Bryce Easton, who’s superb 65 on the East Course included a career-first ace on the 12th. “It’s one of those things – you don’t think about it when you’re playing the hole, but when it goes in it takes a couple of seconds to realise that it’s actually disappeared.”

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