Richard Sterne (Getty Images)
For the second week running South Africa’s Richard Sterne leads at the halfway stage of a European Tour event after a seven under par 65 saw him join compatriot Trevor Fisher Junior at the top of the Joburg Open leaderboard.
The 31 year old Sterne, who won five European Tour titles before a back injury ravaged his 2010 and 2011 campaigns, followed his stunning 63 over Royal Johannesburg & Kensington’s West Course with seven birdies on the more demanding East Course to reach 15 under par.
Last week Sterne completed the first two rounds with a one shot advantage before finishing runner-up to Stephen Gallacher, but he is determined to claim the title this week.
“I did the right things and putted well,” he said. “It's nice to not be behind going into the weekend.
"It won't be easy on the weekend. The players that are five or six back can catch us as well. Charl's there, George is due a win, so it's a long way from over."
An opening birdie was followed by gains at the fourth and seventh, before an eight foot putt at the ninth completed an outward 33.
A magnificent approach to five feet at the 15th then sparked a late flurry of birdies, as gains on the 17th and 18th saw him catch Fisher Junior; who earlier in the day had looked set for a comfortable advantage after a blistering 62 on the West Course - just one outside Charl Schwartzel’s course record.
Following his superb opening 66 on the East Course – players play a round on each of the courses before reverting to the East layout for the weekend - the 33 year old highlighted why he was named the Sunshine Tour Players’ Player of the Year two days ago.
“It was a great day out there,” said last year’s third-place finisher, who had seven birdies and an eagle on his card. “Everything just happened for me and I sank the putts I needed to sink.
“I was happy and patient with myself – walked slow and did everything slow – and it was just a good day.”
George Coetzee also came within a shot of two-time winner Schwartzel’s course record - although his 64 was one outside the former Masters Tournament winner’s East Course effort from 2009.
At 12 under he is three back after eight unanswered birdies - the best of which came with an approach to three feet at the tenth.
Schwartzel shot 65 on the West Course to be tied for fourth alongside compatriot Keith Horne and Chile’s Felipe Aguilar, and the World Number 18 was not surprised by Fisher Junior’s presence on the leaderboard.
“We played foursomes for South Africa Under-23s - I know how good he can be,” he said.