A stellar performance in winning the Joburg Open on the Sunshine Tour in February is one of the most potent arguments that Richard Sterne can win anything – even the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield this week.
Sterne, 31, is playing in the Open Championship for the sixth time this year, and his precision game has yet to find full flower in the difficult surroundings of a links course: He missed the cut the first three times he played; he did not play in 2010 and 2011 at the height of his back problems; and he 34th in 2009 and 39th last year.
But on the challenging Royal Johannesburg and Kensington East Course layout in February, he put on a display that, staggeringly, included just a single bogey for the whole week.
How dominant was Sterne’s Joburg Open win? It was the first time since Tiger Woods won the 2002 WGC-CA Championship that a player had won on the European Tour while making just one bogey for the tournament.
Sterne won by the biggest margin in the history of this tournament, and also produced the lowest 72-hole total when he closed with a 64 to win on 27-under-par 260.
“That was probably the best final round of my career. It was quite special to finish the way I did,” said Sterne, who won for the first time in four years and 51 days since the 2008 South African Open Championship.
That exhibition – and it seemed like exhibition golf at times – was built on extraordinary accuracy and distance control. His iron-play was immaculate throughout the week. And if there is anything that is going to be rewarded over Muirfield’s testing links, it’s going to be iron play.
He showed that that aspect of his game is as good as ever in his second-place finish in the Alstom French Open at the beginning of the month, his second tournament back after the birth of his first child.
In the hype surrounding the best players in the world at the Open Championship, it’s easy to forget that the always understated Sterne is one of them: He’s ranked 34th, the highest he’s been this year, and that makes him a realistic contender.