Tait: Sterne stands out at Africa Open

Richard Sterne of South Africa

Richard Sterne of South Africa

Louis Oosthuizen might have been the headline in the Africa Open, but he had a pretty good supporting cast.

While Oosthuizen got all the praise, pay close attention to the guy who finished in sixth. Richard Sterne took that spot, and many will be hoping his performance points to a return to winning ways.

The 30-year-old South African is a five-time European Tour winner. Indeed, there was a time when his name was usually mentioned in the same breath as Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel as future South African major winners. Yet Sterne was relegated to a mere spectator while Oosthuizen captured the 2010 Open Championship, and Schwartzel last year’s Masters.

Sterne only managed four appearances in 2010, and just six during the 2011 campaign. A serious back injury kept him sidelined the rest of the time.

The diminutive South African had to stop playing in February 2010 because of disc problems in his lower and middle back. He spent the entire year out and didn’t play again until December when he played twice. He played four tournaments early last year and seemed set to play a full season.

“I’m still struggling. I still need a lot of treatment every day, but at least I’m playing,” he told Golfweek during last year’s Dubai Desert Classic. “I haven’t really set myself a lot of goals this year. I just want to try to get back to full fitness, maybe try to get back into the top 100 in the world and see how it goes. It would be nice just to play a full season.

“It was a bit frustrating (watching Oosthuizen and Schwartzel) because I wanted to be out there with them. They’ve kind of left me behind. I want to get back to full fitness as soon as possible and start joining them.”

Sterne never got the chance. The Dubai tournament turned out to be his last event of the year. He spent the next 10 months in rehab.

Now he’s back and off to a great start. He has a lot of catching up to do. Hopefully his back problems are over, and he can start trying for that major victory to join Oosthuizen and Schwartzel.

The Africa Open was also notable for the fifth-place finisher – Alastair Forsyth. The Scot lost his European Tour card last year and failed to get it back at Q-School. The two-time European Tour winner will get limited starts on the main tour this season, and probably spend most of his time on the Challenge Tour.

Needless to say, Forsyth needs to take advantage when he does get a start on the main tour, which he did this week. The reward? An automatic entry into next week’s Joburg Open.

Finally, Matthew Baldwin won’t be familiar to many people except those who follow amateur golf closely. The Englishman finished 10th in the Africa Open and could prove to be a dark horse on this year’s European Tour.

Baldwin is a former member of the English Golf Union’s elite squad. He was highly regarded in amateur circles in the UK about five years ago, so much so that the University of Tennessee offered him a golf scholarship. He’s taken a while to come through in the pro ranks, spending time on the mini tours in the UK and Europe, before getting his card from finishing 10th on last year’s European Challenge Tour.

Will his finish in Africa portend greater things to come? Ditto for Sterne and Forsyth.

As always, the stories behind the main story are just as fascinating.

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