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Sterne wins maiden European Tour title in the Open de Madrid

Richard Sterne was left toasting a double celebration after his victory in the Open de Madrid. Not only was the two stroke win the 23 year old’s maiden success on The European Tour, it also meant that the former South African Amateur champion had guaranteed his playing privileges for the 2005 season.

Going into the tournament, Sterne was 122nd on the Volvo Order of Merit and facing a possible return to the next month’s Qualifying School Finals at San Roque in southern Spain. But a superb final round 65 for an 18 under par total of 266 was enough to kill two significant birds with one stone.

Second place was taken by Denmark’s Anders Hansen, who closed with a 66 for a 16 under par total of 268, Australia’s Terry Price claimed third place on 15 under par 269 after his 67, while Raphaël Jacquelin of France grabbed a share of fourth on 270 after a closing 68, alongside England’s Paul Broadhurst, who birdied the final two holes for a 70.

But the day, and the week, belonged to Sterne, who was given a tremendous ovation by the gallery around the 18th green, which included England striker Michael Owen, taking a break from his duties with Real Madrid.

Not that the attention of football legends is a new experience for the young South African, who partnered former Scotland striker Kenny Dalglish during the dunhill links championship three weeks ago, where he finished in a tie for 23rd place, a performance which gave him hope that keeping his card for 2005 could be a reality.

“There was a lot of pressure on me, especially over the past three weeks, and indeed there was a lot of pressure on me the whole year,” said Sterne. “I knew I had to perform well early this week and when I managed to do that, I wanted to give myself a chance of winning going into the back nine.

“I took a look at the leaderboards after the 16th hole and saw that I was a couple of shots ahead so then I just tried to make pars over the final two holes and I did it. I am delighted but I tried hard to stay calm out there. I won a lot of amateur tournaments with that attitude and I tried to take the same attitude into the professional game.”

Sterne started the day in a share of third place, one shot off the lead held by fellow South African Darren Fichardt and Broadhurst, and part of a logjam of a dozen players at the head of the leaderboard all covered by only three shots.

The tight-knit feel to the tournament continued in the early stages of the final round and indeed, at one point on the front nine, Broadhurst, Fichardt, Price and Sterne all shared the lead at 15 under par.

But, as the majority of challengers began to make the odd mistake to halt their respective charges Sterne – flawless for the entire final round - seized his chance. An eagle three at the fourth was followed by birdies at the fifth and seventh, and, when he almost holed in one at the ninth, a three foot birdie putt meant he was out in his best-of-week figures of 31.

Into the back nine the South African, who became the 15th first time winner on The 2004 European Tour International Schedule, holed a crucial 20 foot putt for par on the 11th before making another important birdie at the long 14th.

In the trees after a pulled drive, the fourth South African winner on Tour in 2004 - following Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman - chose the sensible option of chipping back out to the fairway before firing his third shot to 15 feet and holing for a well thought out birdie four.

As the chasing pack sorted themselves out into the back nine, it became apparent that the two men most likely to stop Sterne winning were playing in the group directly in front of the South African, namely Hansen and Price.

Hansen, winner of the Volvo PGA Championship in 2002, birdied the 13th, 14th and 16th while Price picked up shots at the 14th and 15th to move both men to 16 under par, only two shots off the lead respectively.

Both knew they needed a couple of birdies to finish to put real pressure on Sterne but both found sand at the short 17th, Hansen saving par with a fine bunker shot to three feet, but Price made bogey four after his bunker escape flew 20 feet over the pin.

Despite having birdie opportunities at the 18th, both Hansen and Price could only make par fours leaving Sterne the luxury of knowing two pars to finish would be enough and he completed them comfortably enough, despite missing the fairway at the last with his adrenalin-fuelled drive.

Hansen was delighted with his runners-up finish which moved him into the top 30 on the Volvo Order of Merit, but even more pleased with his third place was Price, who did enough to move from 63rd to 53rd, thus ensuring his place in next week’s season-ending Volvo Masters Andalucia.

Another player able to now book his flight to Valderrama was England’s Jonathan Lomas, who finished in a tie for 14th at Club de Campo, which was good enough to take the 60th and final place on the Volvo Order of Merit. While Price and Lomas celebrated, their was disappointment for France’s Gregory Havret and Christopher Hanell of Sweden who will miss out on the Volvo Masters Andalucia, having dropped down to 61st and 62nd place respectively.

If the race for places at Valderrama was close, at the other end of the Volvo Order of Merit, the final push to retain playing privileges for the 2005 was even closer and nerve jinglingly dramatic.

In the end the winner, aside from Sterne, was Australian Wade Ormsby, whose superb final round 66 for a share of sixth place on 13 under par 271 was enough to move him from 125th on the Volvo Order of Merit at the start of the week, to 112th.

However, the undoubted loser was Ormsby’s fellow countryman Jarrod Moseley, who will have to return to the Qualifying School Finals after missing out on the vital 116th place by the incredibly small margin of only €13 (£10).

The man who finally ousted Moseley and took the 116th place, was Sweden Robert Karlsson, who finished tied 77th at the Open de Madrid to pocket a cheque for €1,480 (£1,023).

It was a mere trifle compared to the €166,660 (£115,225) won by Sterne, but it was, nevertheless, just enough to inch ahead of Moseley – who missed the cut in Spain - and consign the Australian to a trip to San Roque next month, Karlsson finishing the season with €145,867 (£100,850), while Moseley finished with €145,854 (£100,840).

Ironically, of course, had the positions been reversed, then Karlsson would not have been required to go the Tour School, as he would have been able to take advantage of his exemption through the Career Money Listing.


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