Clarke heads incredible Sterne in Africa Open

Darren Clarke was totally overshadowed by an incredible Richard Sterne as he tied for the lead entering the final round of the Sunshine Tour's Africa Open at East London.

The Ulsterman had an eagle, five birdies and just one bogey in a six-under par 66 to share top spot with James Kingston on 18-under par.

But he will have a red-hot Sterne breathing down his neck after the South African scorched his way to a course record 11-under par 61 he described as "maybe the best round of my life."

Winner of back to back titles on the European Tour before Christmas, Sterne hit five birdies on the opening nine to turn in 31 and then added six more as he came home in 30.

It was a faultless display that had even playing partners Alan McLean and Andre Bossert shaking their heads in bewilderment.

The hard statistics of Sterne’s round tell the tale, for once: After 10 holes in his opening round, he was four-over-par. In the following 44 holes, he picked up 20 strokes, with 11 of those coming in the last 18 he played.

He couldn’t believe he could engineer that kind of turnaround, either: “After the practice round I think I shot about 85 and I wondered about what was going to happen here because the wind was just unbelievable,” he recalled. “But when the tournament starts you do what you have to do and so far, so good!”

He took just 10 putts on the inward nine, and it was so nearly just nine: He had a 10-metre putt for birdie, and the ball shaved the cup on its way a foot further on. “Seventeen was the only hole I two-putted. That was quite nice,” he said.

Clarke is bidding for his second win as a 40 year old with fellow Ulsterman Michael Hoey also in with a chance after a 66 left him just four shots off the pace on 14 under par with Retief Goosen and halfway leader Angel Cabrera, who could only manage a 72.

“All day, I made one mistake, and for me to make only one mistake in a round of golf is pretty good,” Clarke said of his bogey on 13. “But overall, I played really nicely, and the ball felt under control for the most part."

Darren Fichardt is lurking together with Sterne two shots off the pace after his 67, and fifth place is the sole possession of Canada’s Graham DeLaet, whose faultless 64 with eight birdies paled into insignificance next to Sterne’s pyrotechnics.

Sharing ninth are Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace of South Africa, and Marc Cayeuxof Zimbabwe. Schwartzel shot a seven-under 65, and lamented a cold putter which, he believes, cost him a much lower score.