Sterne seals Match Play start with rapid rise

2/11/2013 12:00:00 AM
 Richard Sterne   (Getty Images)
Richard Sterne (Getty Images)

Richard Sterne has been rewarded for his scintillating recent form with a place in the 64-man field at next week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, where he will be joined by 36 of his fellow European Tour Members. 

Sterne needed victory at last week’s Joburg Open to guarantee his berth in the first World Golf Championships event of the 2013 campaign, and the South African promptly strolled to his sixth European Tour title by seven strokes, dropping just one shot all week at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club. 

His victory came on the back of top ten finishes in the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, a run of form which moved Sterne to the top of The Race to Dubai and into the top 60 of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Just two weeks ago, Sterne occupied 165th place in the World Ranking, and his prospects of making a first appearance in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship since 2009 appeared remote.  

But after pushing Stephen Gallacher close in Dubai and then capturing his first European Tour title in four years last week, Sterne leapt 110 places to 55th, and so will travel to Arizona along with six of his fellow South Africans: World Number Six Louis Oosthuizen; World Number 16 Charl Schwartzel; World Number 24 Ernie Els; World Number 29 Branden Grace; World Number 41 George Coetzee; and World Number 59 Tim Clark.    

Grace is one of nine European Tour Members making their debuts in the tournament, with Wales’ Jamie Donaldson (30th in the World Ranking), Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen (40th), England’s David Lynn (51st), Australian Marcus Fraser (53rd), the Scottish duo of Gallacher (57th) and Richie Ramsay (61st), Germany’s Marcel Siem (63rd) and Ireland’s Shane Lowry (65th) all lining up for the first time at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, in Dove Mountain.

Lowry gained entry to the elite event thanks to the last ditch efforts of American Patrick Reed at the US PGA Tour's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last week. With Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson needing to finish seventh on his own at Pebble Beach if he was to push Lowry down to 66th in the world, Reed holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a two-way tie for seventh with Jacobson. That meant Jacobson moved up only to Number 66 - just 0.0002 points behind Lowry.

At World Number 65, Lowry qualifies following the withdrawal of American Phil Mickelson, who returned to the top ten of the World Ranking with his victory in the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open on the US PGA Tour.

Mickelson is currently the only member of the top ten not teeing up in the US$8.75million tournament, with the remainder all in action led by World Number One Rory McIlroy, who is returning to competitive action for the first time since the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Two-time Major Champion McIlroy, runner-up to Hunter Mahan 12 months ago, is seeking his first WGC success, unlike the English duo of Luke Donald and Justin Rose, respectively third and fifth in the World Ranking.

Donald succeeded his compatriot Ian Poulter as the winner of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in 2011, whilst Rose made his WGC breakthrough at last year’s WGC-Cadillac Championship.  

Oosthuizen, the World Number Six, heads to Arizona in fine fettle, having won the Volvo Golf Champions at the start of the season; whilst the fifth and final European Tour Member currently in the top ten, World Number Eight Lee Westwood of England, made an encouraging return to action with a tied fifth finish in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

As a result of his qualification into next week's Accenture Match Play, Sterne has withdrawn from this week's Africa Open field.