23 December 2008
Richard Sterne captured the South African Open after a playoff at Pearl Valley in the Western Cape on Sunday to win his second Sunshine-European Tour co-sanctioned event in succession, following his victory at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek the week before.
It was Sterne’s third victory of the year, following his success in the Joburg Open in January.
It also needed something special to win – what Sterne considered the best bunker shot of his life lifted him to the title on Sunday on the first playoff hole against Northern Ireland rookie Gareth Maybin.
In regulation play, Sterne pulled his approach slightly left and it landed in the bunker with very little green for him to work with.
“I don’t even remember hitting that bunker shot,” he said afterwards. “I was trying to hit it to 15 feet, to be honest, to give myself a chance there, and it just came out perfect. It came out to three feet, way better than I could have hoped.”
That shot helped him come away with a birdie and a total of 14-under-par 274 after his final round 66, which gave him the clubhouse lead and a chance at a second title in two weeks.
He spent an anxious time in the players’ lounge, reading but not absorbing a newspaper, while the 28-year-old Maybin from Belfast went about his final round with the calm of a veteran rather than like someone about to play on his first year on the European Tour.
But Maybin couldn’t buy a birdie on the homeward nine.
He set himself up for a tournament-winning birdie on the 18th, but the eight-footer lipped agonisingly out and the pair had to walk back down the fairway to do it all over again.
Maybin pushed his drive into a bunker on the right of the fairway, while Sterne was as long and as straight down the middle as he had been all week.
It was all over right there, even though there was a flicker of hope for Maybin when he was lining up a putt for a birdie. With Sterne’s third shot having landed just a tap-in away from the cup, it was a last chance Maybin was unable to convert.
After England’s Lee Westwood had held the third-round lead at 14-under, it seemed unlikely that it would also be the winning score.
‘No one was running away with it’
Sterne was somewhat surprised: “No one was running away with it, although obviously Ernie made a big move,” he said, after Els set the early pace with a blistering round of 64, which included a bogey and a three-putt on the 18th for par.
“Going into the back nine, I thought if I could just get to 14‑ or 15‑under, you never know what can happen coming down the stretch,’ said Sterne.
But it was a futile blast from the Big Easy, whose wretched 77 in the third round offset excellent rounds of 67, 67, and 64.
Rory McIlroy, who secured a place in the world’s top 50 after finishing third, couldn’t quite get his game going and closed with a 70 to finish one shot behind Sterne and his compatriot Maybin on 275.
Lee Westwood, the third round leader, carded a one-over-par 73 to also finish on 275.
It has been an impressive year for Sterne; his win last week in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek secured him the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit title and by topping the Order of Merit he has secured an invitation to participate in next year’s Nedbank Challenge at Sun City.
In addition, Sterne’s run of success has lifted into the top 50 of the world rankings, to a year-end ranking of 43, and that means he qualifies for the US Masters at Augusta.
SAinfo reporter and Sunshine Tour