Sterne back after long layoff
Johannesburg - Five-time European Tour winner Richard Sterne hopes his decision to take a relaxed approach to the Africa Open this week will pay handsome dividends.
Sterne makes a long-awaited comeback from injury at the €1-million European and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned event at the East London Golf Club starting on Thursday.
"My last competitive round was at the Telkom PGA Championship in February last year, so I don't mind admitting that I'm a little nervous," said Sterne after completing his practice round on Tuesday.
"I've played lots of nine holes in the last three weeks, but today was the first time I played 18 holes in nearly a year. It went surprisingly well, so I'm cautiously optimistic for the week ahead."
The 30-year-old reached a career high 29th in the official world golf rankings after winning the 2008 Joburg Open, Alfred Dunhill Championship and South African Open, but recurring back injuries forced his complete retirement from the game last year.
"I have three bulging discs in various places in my back and I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis," Sterne explained.
"Unfortunately there is no overnight cure for this type of injury and the recovery process is a long one. At the start I wasn't patient enough and didn't give the therapy a proper chance to work, so within a week or two I'd be on the crutches list again.
"In this sport you have to practise several hours a day, six days a week for several weeks on end to stay in top form. I've stuck out the therapy and gym work for the last 11 months. I feel better than ever and I'm ready to compete."
Although his focus will be to complete 72 holes, Sterne's competitive spirit is as strong as ever and he hopes to get close to the course record 61 he set at the par 73, 6 120m layout in 2008.
"It's a true risk and reward course, where you need to think your way around. A slight miscalculation could easily cost you two shots.
"I believe golf needs this kind of course, because that's what adds to the excitement of this tournament. You never know what can happen and things can change in the blink of an eye, especially when the wind is up.
Sterne will face tough opposition from Thomas Aiken who won the Spanish Open last year, and from Major winners Louis Oosthuizen and Retief Goosen, both former winners.
Also vying for the title will be 2011 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner Garth Mulroy who leads a slew of top international local challengers including George Coetzee, Jbe Kruger and Jaco van Zyl.