Clarke fourth in Joburg Open

By Brian Keogh

Darren Clarke is back in business again after clinching his second top-five finish on the trot in South Africa.

Third in the South African Open before Christmas, the Ulsterman closed with a three under par 68 to finish solo fourth behind Richard Sterne in the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington.

Clarke finished on 11 under par - just two strokes outside a sudden-death play-off for the title - after a round that featured five birdies.

Without a win since the 2003 NEC Invitational, the Dungannon man was in contention right to the end and will head for the European Tour's three-week "Gulf Swing" with his confidence sky high.

South African Sterne produced a brilliant birdie at the first extra hole to stay alive and then birdied it again to claim his third European Tour crown and deny compatriot Garth Mulroy and Swede Magnus Carlsson.

Battling to emerge from an 18-month slump following the loss of his wife Heather to breast cancer in 2006, five-time Ryder Cup star Clarke was just a stroke off the lead with two holes to play before a bogey at the 17th ended his hopes.

A consolation birdie at the 18th left him alone in fourth place and his cheque for €54,010 moved him up 11 places to 19th in the Order of Merit.

Sterne birdied the last two holes for a 65 as Mulroy and Carlsson fired brilliant rounds of 66 to match him on 13 under par.

And while they all birdied the par-five 18th the first time around in sudden-death, only Sterne could repeat the feat when the returned to the 551 yard finishing hole for the third time.

The South African, 26, was four strokes behind overnight leader Mark Murless starting the final round.

But Murless putted poorly for a closing 73 and had to settle for fifth place alongside countrymen Louis Moolman and Chris Williams.

The highest ranked player in the field, Sterne said: "It was a tough day. Any time you're favourite to win or anything like that, I think it's a little bit more pressure.

"I didn't get off to a good start at all. I think I was three over at some stage, but I came back strong and that's what it's about."

Clarke, 39, added the Joburg Open to his schedule at the last minute following the cancellation of the Royal Trophy in Bangkok.

He finished joint third in the South African Open just before Christmas to claim his first top-five finish for 18 months.

Now he looks certain to move up the world rankings today after crashing from 20th to 229th since the tragic loss of his wife in August 2006.