Budding SA star to give rivals a stern test at Jo'burg Open

Having won the last two events on the European Tour at the end of 2008, there is little doubt South Africa’s rising star, Richard Sterne, is the favourite going into this weekend’s Jo’burg Open that starts on Thursday.

The 27-year-old from Pretoria finished an ordinary 2008 season in emphatic style by first capturing the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek and then winning the South African Open at Pearl Valley Golf Estates in Paarl in December.

Now Sterne is seeking his third title on the trot, a feat which if achieved will put him alongside some of the greats of the game; players who have won three European Tour tournaments in a row.

The last time it was achieved was in 1986 when legendary Spanish player Seve Ballesteros won three in a row and before him, England’s Nick Faldo did it in 1983.

Sterne not only goes into this week’s co-sanctioned event (with the South African Sunshine Tour) as the favourite because of current form, but because he is also the defending champion.

Last year Sterne beat fellow South African Garth Mulroy and Sweden’s Magnus Carlsson in a playoff in the second staging of the event. In the first year of the Jo’burg Open, Argentina’s Ariel Canete came out on top.

Ranked 43 in the world, Sterne says he is looking forward to challenging for the title this weekend.

“My confidence is high at the moment and come Sunday afternoon, hopefully I’m in position to again challenge for the win,” Sterne said.

“Golf is a strange game! I started well last year by winning here and then dipped in form for the remainder of the year, but finished well.”

This year’s Open has attracted over 100 players from Europe who’ll be playing alongside a similar number of locals, including two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen, European Tour regular Charl Schwartzel and 2007 South African Open champion James Kingston.

The tournament will be played on the east and west course of the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club on Thursday and Friday with the last two rounds on Saturday and Sunday being played only on the east course.

Total prize money this weekend is €1,2-million, with the winner pocketing €174 350.—Sapa-AFP


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