Richard Sterne won his first European Tour event in 2004 and his last in 2008, but his recent return to form shows heÂs in great shape in this weekÂs Joburg Open to add another title to his collection of five.
The 31-year-old had a purple patch in 2008 when he started his Sunshine Tour Order of Merit-winning year off with victory in the Joburg Open, and superb opening rounds of 62 and 66 round the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington West and East Courses propelled him into a share of the halfway lead with Trevor Fisher Jnr.
Sterne got his 2013 campaign off to a flying start with a second-place finish in last weekÂs Omega Dubai Desert Classic Â improving on his good finish to 2012 when he shared seventh in DecemberÂs Alfred Dunhill Championship.
Winning five titles on one of the worldÂs biggest golf tours brings with it a healthy dose of realism, however, and SterneÂs not ready to say heÂs back to his best just yet.
ÂItÂs not so easy being up there from day one,Â he said. ÂYouÂve got to learn to pull things through, and hopefully I can. You would like to stay up there and give yourself a chance come Sunday.Â
Sterne battled back problems for two tough years in 2010 and 2011, but those problems were already beginning in 2009 during which he managed just one top-10 finish.
ÂItÂs all good, now,Â he said of the back problem. ÂIÂm pain-free now. But I am aware that when I get tired it can be a bit of a threat, rather than a problem.Â
All the time off with back problems meant, of course, he couldnÂt hone his considerable skills, but they seem to be undimmed after two weeks of scintillating golf Â which could just lead to his first win in over four years.
They were evident in his opening 62 on the par-71 West Course in the Joburg Open Â but perhaps more so in his six-under 66 on the more difficult East Course.
ÂI hit a couple of good up-and-downs in the beginning and that kept the momentum going,Â he said. ÂThatÂs crucial if you want to win tournaments or be up there come Sunday. YouÂve got to minimize mistakes and hopefully I can continue to do that and keep making some birdies.Â
If that 2008 magic is back, South African golf fans will be in for a Sterne treat.