Friday, 19 March 2010

Richard Sterne captured the Joburg Open when he beat fellow South African Garth Mulroy and Sweden’s Magnus A Carlsson at the second hole of a play-off at Royal Johannesburg and Kensingston GC.

Sterne, who packs a formidable punch despite his slight frame, twice reached the 551 yard 18th in two blows in the play-off before triumphing at the second time of asking when neither Carlsson nor Mulroy could match his tap-in birdie four.

It was Sterne’s third European Tour title – secured not far from his Pretoria home – and carried the South African through the £2 million barrier in career earnings on The European Tour.

On a dramatic day in Johannesburg, countless players found themselves in with an opportunity to claim the second Joburg Open. One by one, they dropped away and when Darren Clarke, the most experienced competitor in the field, finished on 273, 11 under par, the contest was reduced to a three-way fight.

Carlsson, seventh on the Challenge Tour Rankings last year, was first to finish on 271, 13 under par, after a closing round of 68, containing a strong finish of back to back birdies at the 17th and 18th.

Next up was Sterne, who matched Carlsson’s birdie-birdie finish for a best of the day 65 while Mulroy – despite a two at the 16th – was unable to birdie either of the last two holes to shoot a 66 which left him level with Carlsson and Sterne on 271.

The trio returned to the 18th tee and Sterne - who had also missed a short eagle attempt on the 18th in regular play -  held the advantage after pounding a brilliant six iron fairway bunker shot from 209 yards to the heart of the green. However his 25 footer for eagle sat on the lip, allowing 29 year old Mulroy and 27 year old Carlsson to pitch and putt for their birdies.

Once more, the triumvirate headed back down the fairway in a convoy of golf buggies to replay the 18th hole. One again, Sterne showed his class by splitting the fairway and knocking his second shot to 12 feet.

Sterne hit his eagle putt just too firmly and had to settle for his second tap-in birdie four. This time, though, Carlsson was unable to get up and down from a greenside bunker while Mulroy, from Durban, chipped to eight foot and watched in agony as his own birdie putt horse-shoed out.

That miss enabled Sterne, 14th on the Order of Merit last year, to follow his 2007 victory in The Celtic Manor Wales Open with a third success on The European Tour, and his first in his native South Africa.

"The bunker shot (in the play-off) was pretty impressive, even if I say so myself," Sterne said. "When I hit the ball I knew it was perfect. The shot was on and because it was a play-off I had to go for it, even though it was 50-50."

He added:   "It was a tough day and it took a lot out of me. I haven't felt great the last couple of days and I surprised myself today. It was close and it needed some special things."

"It was actually quite enjoyable to be honest," said Sterne. "After the start I was quite far back and I knew I needed to get to 13 or 14 under.I got close when I hit a couple great shots into the last. I thought 13 under was a good number."

Sterne was the highest-ranked player in the 204-strong event but he admitted he needed to play well to recover and win the top prize. He added:. "Any time you're favourite to win or anything like that, I think it's a little bit more pressure. I didn't get off to a good start at all. I think I was three over at some stage, but I came back strong and that's what it's about."

For a long time, it appeared that 39 year old Clarke might prevail when he birdied the seventh, eighth, 13th, 15th and 18th. However he was undone by slack moments at the tenth and 17th and those bogeys cost him the chance of challenging for his first title since winning the WGC-NEC Invitational in 2003.

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