Richard Sterne captured the South African Open after a playoff at Pearl Valley to win his second Sunshine-European Tour co-sanctioned event in succession, after his victory at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek the week before.
It was Sterne’s third victory of the year after his success at 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 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 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.
Sterne 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 someone starting out 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 onthe 18th, but the eight-footer lipped out agonisingly and the pair had to walk back down the fairway to do it all over again.
In the playoff Maybin pushed his drive into a bunker on the right of the fairway, while Sterne was as long and 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 it would also be the winning score.
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. Westwood, the third-round leader, carded a one-over-par 73 to also finish on 275.
Sterne’s run of success lifted him into the top 50 of the World Ranking, to a year-end position of 43.
1. *Richard Sterne (SA) 72 69 67 66
2. Gareth Maybin (NIR) 66 69 69 70
3. Ernie Els (SA) 67 67 77 64, Rory McIlroy (NIR) 70 68 67 70, Lee Westwood (ENG) 66 68 68 73
6. Richard Finch (ENG) 69 70 71 66, Retief Goosen (SA) 70 66 69 71 276, Branden Grace (SA) 69 67 73 67 276, Chris Wood (ENG) 68 69 71 68 276
10. Trevor Immelman (SA) 69 71 70 67 277
*Denotes Sterne won in a playoff
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