/ 18 December 2009

A Sterne test at SA Open

Richard Sterne’s fourth-place finish at the Alfred Dunhill Championship last week should spur him to put up a good fight in Paarl this weekend to defend his lucrative SA Open title. He has what it takes and must maintain that form.

Sterne had an uneventful year overseas. Other than making the cut at the US Masters in Augusta, the only other decent showing was at the Omega Mission World Cup in Shenzen, China, in November.

He partnered Rory Sabbatini to represent South Africa. The pair finished joint sixth. Sterne could master only 34th spot at the British Open Championship under very tough conditions, where even Tiger Woods did not make the cut.

His good streak ended around this time last year after he won the SA Open here. In fact, 2008 was a big year for Sterne. He won the Dunhill Championship and the SA Open back to back and clinched the Sunshine Tour’s 2008 Order of Merit.

At the beginning of this year he was lying third in the European Tour’s 2009 Race to Dubai. Pity he did not last long in that race, with an ordinary showing overseas.

It is not fair to steal the thunder from Pablo Martin. Yes, he is a golfer. Last week the Spaniard interrupted his holiday in South Africa to take part in the Alfred Dunhill Championship — and snatched it.

Although he had to fend off Charl Schwartzel on the last day, Martin had done enough on Saturday to ensure he kept a cool head, including on the killer 18th, where, in spite of a 160m approach, he chose to lie up and then leave himself an easy 1m birdie putt to win.

Although Schwartzel’s knock of two rounds of 68 on Saturday and Sunday were a marvel to watch, it was Sterne’s 66 on Sunday that makes him a favourite to finish 2009 the same way he did last year.

If Sterne fails to pick up where he left off and Schwartzel finds more fairways than he did last Sunday and putts as he did on that day, then the lanky three-time Order of Merit winner will pocket the R1,75-million winner’s cheque to add to the R1,25-million he got last week.

This is not to suggest that this weekend will be a two-man or even a South African show. Martin may love collecting money on our shores and just snatch this one if he keeps his 23-year-old head down.