If he were to choose a major to play, Richard Sterne would pick the Masters, so getting into next week’s edition of the first major of the year at Augusta National is making him feel very pleased indeed.
“I’ve always liked the look of the course, and the crowds are great,” said Sterne ahead of jetting out of South Africa to join seven other South Africans – including previous Masters champions Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel – in the tournament.
Sterne cemented his spot in the Masters by remaining inside the world’s top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings for week 13, despite resting at home in South Africa while other players on the verge of either making it in or dropping out of that top 50 played in Houston on the PGA Tour and in Morocco on the European Tour.
He made it in, as South Africa Open champion Henrik Stenson did with his second place in Houston. And he will spare a thought for Marcel Siem of Germany who won the Hassan Trophy in Morocco.
That moved Siem to the cusp of the top 50, but he fell short when Russell Henley closed with a 68 at the Houston Open to tie for 45th, just enough to earn points and stay a fraction of a point ahead of Siem, who went from 72 to 51. It will be frustrating for Siem because Henley is already in the Masters after his Sony Open victory in January.
Sterne will probably only get to Augusta National on Sunday, but he will waste not time getting the best possible practice round in: “I’ll probably just play with Charl and Louis [Oosthuizen],” he said – not a bad pair: Schwartzel is the 2011 champion, and Oosthuizen was runner up to Bubba Watson’s miracle shot in the play-off last year.
Sterne is playing healthy again for the first time since 2009, and his superb run of form since the beginning of the year – including a dominant victory over Schwartzel in the Joburg Open – catapulted him into the world’s top 50.
And he was able to play at home on the Sunshine Tour in the Telkom PGA Championship and in the Investec Cup and be fairly certain of not falling out of the top 50. “I’ve rested up nicely, and I’m ready to focus all my energies on practicing again,” he said.
The addition of Stenson, Houston Open winner DA Points, Sterne and Fredrik Jacobson, who, like Sterne, did not play last week, brings the Masters field to 92 players expected to compete. There are no more than two spots available for the winners of the Houston Open and Texas Open if they are not already eligible, meaning this will be the smallest field at the Masters since 90 players competed in 2006.
The other South African in the field are Immelman, Schwartzel, Ootshuizen, Ernie Els, Branden Grace, Tim Clark and George Coetzee.