Sterne ready to show the Irish

While four Irish major champions have been the hype of the Irish Open, Richard Sterne heads up a 13-man South African contingent, who will look to dominate the Paddies at Royal Portrush Golf Club come Thursday.

And Sterne is peaking at the right time – in his last four European Tour appearances he has taken three top-10 finished, including second at the ISPS Handa Wales Open three weeks ago.

The 30-year-old struggled with a back injury over the 2011 season, and is currently playing on a medical exemption. Before his injury he was a force to be reckoned with, having won the Joburg Open, Alfred Dunhill Championship and SA Open – all in 2008.

Since the start of the year it has been clear that Sterne is on the mend. He got things going with a share of sixth at the Africa Open in January after reaching an impressive 20-under-par by Sunday afternoon.

He had solid starts at both the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Avantha Masters, but could not maintain his pace through the weekend.

After a spell of missed cuts during March and April, Sterne found his rhythm, starting with a share of sixth at the BMW Championship. During the event he carded a second-round 68, yet the winning total after 72 holes was just six-under. The Sterne of old was rearing his head.

On to Wales, where Sterne once again showed why he holds five European Tour wins. And how did he do it? By recovering from an opening 73 and shooting three consecutive rounds in the 60s, finishing just one stroke shy of winner Thongchai Jaidee.

A week later he shot a final 68 to finish seventh at the Nordea Masters, capping off a three-week stretch with his third top-10 finish.

He looked set to make it four top-10s when he reached Sunday at the BMW International Open in sixth place. He had attained a nine-under-par total by shooting three consecutive 69s, which left him three strokes shy of leader Danny Willett. Sterne had a Sunday shocker, carding 79 and dropping seven shots on his way to a share of 38th, but let’s not forget his first three rounds at the event.

The results speak for themselves – Sterne is back in action and ready to claim his sixth European Tour win.

This week, Irish veterans Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke will be joined by young guns Rory McIlroy and amateur champion Alan Dunbar.

Similarly, Sterne will be joined by Branden Grace and Jbe Kruger, the latest young South Africans to claim European Tour victories. And the list continues…Darren Fichardt will be rearing to go for the win, especially because he took victory on the Challenge Tour just two weeks ago.

Garth Mulroy and Hennie Otto, who finished won the 2011 Alfred Dunhill Championship and SA Open Championship respectively, will look for Irish glory.

And then come Dylan Frittelli and Warren Abery, both looking to make their first significant cheques on the European Tour. And a good result could go a long way for many South Africans, including James Kingston, Jaco van Zyl and George Coetzee, all of whom will contest at Royal Portrush.

While the Irish will have home pride at their national open, they should be wary of the South Africans, all 13 of whom are ready for a Gaelic battle.

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