Sterne, others primed for Open challenges

AAM Scottish Open - Day OneThere are four South Africans playing the in the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon Golf Club who have either not won The Open, or who are not young rookies playing in their first major

Richard Sterne is the first, and he marched to a seven-stroke victory over Charl Schwartzel for his last tournament victory. That’s how good he can be and that’s what makes him a not entirely unlikely contender.

That victory came in the 2013 Joburg Open, and Sterne has spent the time in between then and now battling long-term injuries. But he sealed a spot in The Open with his share of 11th in the 100th Open de France while playing on a medical exemption on The European Tour.

He has been consistent in his attempt to secure his playing rights on that circuit again, with only two missed cuts and three top-10s, and he’s currently 74th on the Race to Dubai. A good finish at Troon would see him inside the top 60, giving him a chance to play in the season-ending Final Series.

But he will need to find a way to deal with the wind in The Open, and that’s something for which Branden Grace has already shown some real aptitude.

One of his most impressive victories came in the 2012 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and he burst onto the international stage when he followed up his 2012 Joburg Open win with victory in the Volvo Champions on The Links at Fancourt.

He has showed his ability to compete at the very highest level in majors, only slipping out of contention for victory in the 2015 US Open with a wayward tee shot on the 16th in the final round at the extremely challenging Chambers Bay. He finished fifth in the US Open again, and has made it very apparent that a major championship is in his near future.

He had a share of 20th in last year’s tough tournament at St Andrews, so it would be unsurprising to see him dealing well with whatever Troon throws at the field.

George Coetzee has often seemed to take the vicissitudes of The Open in his stride, with two top-20s to his credit since he first played in 2011. When he gets into the kind of mood that stands up to whatever difficulties make scoring difficult, he can be stubborn enough to be a contender.

And, as he said in an interview earlier this week, Charl Schwartzel relishes the process of adapting his game to challenging conditions as much as – or more than – anyone else in world golf. If he finds something, he might just be unstoppable.


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