Sterne holds off pain in solid first round in Dubai

Richard Sterne rode out the pain in his back that has been the one constant of his golfing life for the last two years and carded a solid four-under-par 68 in the opening round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

He trailed leader Rory McIlroy by three strokes, and he wasn’t the best of the South Africans in the field as Thomas Aiken shared second with a resurgent Sergio Garcia, but he felt a degree of satisfaction that has been missing from his attempted return.

“It’s nice to have a good start to a tournament for a change,” he said. “I hit the ball a bit better so there were some positives.”

He played solid golf throughout, making three birdies in his opening nine, and stumbling just once on the homeward nine with a solitary bogey on the 15th. He rectified that mistake immediately with a birdie on the 16th.

The back pain started to be a major problem for him during the 2009 European Tour.

“I’ve got two bulging discs in the T8 and L5S1,” he said, “and the upper one has given me a lot of problems. I’ve got a lot of pain on rotation and deferred pain into my ribs.”

After trying all sorts of proposed solutions to the problem, he decided to try his hand on the 2010 Sunshine Tour, but, after two top 20s, and his share of 22nd in the Vodacom Championship last February, he withdrew from tournament play to attend to the injury.

He returned to action at last year’s Alfred Dunhill Championship, more in hope than in certainty.

He finished in a share of 30th there, and climbed to a share of 21st in the SA Open Championship a week later.

It didn’t go quite as well at the 2011 Joburg Open, where a share of 60th before he headed off to Europe to see whether the pain might finally give him some space to get back to his best.

It wasn’t too pretty: He managed a 30th place in the Volvo Golf Champions before heading to the Commercialbank Qatar Masters.

“Last week I retired. I’m struggling with my back,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot of pain, even now. I’m not really comfortable. I’m just trying to get through it, and I’ve got a couple of weeks off after this.”

But he hopes he gets three more rounds under his belt in Dubai. And that they are as good as his first round.

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