As he watched his par putt slide by the hole, Richard Sterne must have felt frustration well up as he was going to finish on eight-under at halfway in the Open Championship and miss the cut.
And just under an hour later, Japan’s Shingo Katayama missed his birdie putt on 18 and stayed eight-under, shifting the cut back to the number Sterne was on – and the Joburg Open champion discovered his lives on to fight through the weekend at an increasingly difficult Muirfield.
Sterne joins Tim Clark, Ernie Els, George Coetzee, Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel as South Africans who made the cut – and, as Els said in a fractious interview after his second consecutive three-over-par 74, “You’re never out of a major playing on the weekend.”
Sterne has the most work of all the South Africans to do: He carded his second successive four-over 75 to find himself 11 shots behind leader Miguel Angel Jimenez – but he will console himself with the fact that a player of the quality of Brandt Snedeker, who was three-under in his opening round, ballooned out to a sad eight-over 79 in the second round.
So Sterne’s legendary distance control is going to be crucial in the third round – and he will get out earliest of the entire field, when Muirfield will be at its most benign. Taking advantage of that slight edge can vault him right up the leaderboard.
Clark bustled his way round to a five-over 76 to finish nine off the lead, but it was Els who came closest to expressing some of the frustration that the likes of Phil Mickelson verbalised after the first round.
“I think there are two greens that are really getting… can I say it? They’re not very playable. But the rest is tough but fair. Really tough challenge. But I think two of the greens are getting out of hand,” he said.
Ahead of him, Coetzee and Grace showed great resilience in carding a pair of level-par 71s, and if they’re able to reproduce that kind of grit over the weekend, there is no telling how high they can finish.
But it was Schwarztel’s round that was the eye-opener: He shared the low-round of the day with Lee Westwood, and when all was said and done, he found himself on one-over for the tournament, four off the pace, and the knowledge that he had turned his fortunes around after an unhappy first round.
That kind of momentum is priceless.