Richard Sterne (Getty Images)
Richard Sterne put his injury nightmare firmly behind him by cruising effortlessly to a first European Tour title in just over four years at the Joburg Open - and then revealed the success of his fellow South Africans served as a motivating factor.
Ranked 29th in the world following successive victories on home soil in December 2008, Sterne subsequently slipped out of the top 1000 after missing much of the 2010 and 2011 campaigns due to a form of arthritis in his back.
However, if the prospect of returning to the winner’s circle daunted the 31 year old, who led at the halfway stage in last week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic before finishing second to Stephen Gallacher, it did not show today as he surged clear of fellow overnight leader Trevor Fisher Junior.
The latter eagled the first but subsequently faltered while Sterne - champion here five years ago - made serene progress to a bogey free 64 at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington GC.
An aggregate score of 27 under, a record for this event, put him seven ahead of Charl Schwartzel, one of several players to have provided inspiration during Sterne’s lengthy injury lay-off.
Prior to this week, South African players had won 11 of the previous 51 European Tour events, something that came as a boost to Sterne as he worked his way back to top form.
“I didn’t think I was going to be out for so long, but six months became a year and then almost two,” he explained.
“After all the hard work and the time out with injury, I did think whether I was ever going to win again. At one point the pain was so bad that I even wondered if I'd ever play golf again. But now I know I can.
“The only thing that kept me going was all the other South Africans. They kept winning a lot of events and I believed that if they could do it then I could.”
Sterne, who becomes the first man since Tiger Woods in 2002 to drop just one shot in a 72 hole European Tour event, now leads the Race To Dubai and will climb into the top 60 when the Official World Golf rankings are updated on Monday.
Yet he will certainly not be resting on his laurels in the coming weeks and months.
The leading 50 players qualify automatically for Major Championships - a huge incentive for a player seemingly back to his best.
“I’d like to get back into all the Majors - that’s where I want to be playing,” Sterne added.
“It’s a big year. I’ve got off to such a nice start so hopefully I can keep it going.
“I played really good golf today and the whole week really. That was probably the best final round of my career. It was quite special to finish the way I did.”
Schwartzel’s 66 left him one better off than Ricardo Santos, who matched the victor’s final round 64, Felipe Aguilar and George Coetzee.
Fisher Junior ultimately signed for a 73, which left him alongside Keith Horne and Thomas Aiken on 18 under.