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Richard Sterne seeks to end 8-year slide on European Tour

Richard Sterne 1st round 2021 Omega Dubai Desert Classic
Richard Sterne follows a shot during his 8-under 64 on Thursday at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai.

South African shoots 8-under 64 for 1-stroke lead over American Kurt Kitayama in Omega Dubai Desert Classic

South Africa’s Richard Sterne offered a seemingly simple summary of his play Thursday after he grabbed the first-round lead at the European Tour’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

"When I was in trouble, I got out of it and made some good par putts and kept the round going, and I hit a lot of golf shots as well,” Sterne said. “Made quite a few birdies.”

Quite a few, indeed. Sterne rattled off nine birdies for an 8-under 64 at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai to open a one-stroke lead over American Kurt Kitayama (scores).

"I was pretty happy with the performance,” Sterne said.

Sterne, 39, a six-time winner on the European Tour, is seeking his first victory since Feb. 10, 2013, at the Joburg Open in his homeland. Sterne has experienced a steady slide in the Official World Golf Ranking. He ranks No. 320 after having made only four starts since recovering from wrist surgery in March.

He tied for 25th last week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, which he said provided a big emotional boost. “I struggled the first few days, and played really nicely on Saturday,” he said. “But finishing 25th there has given me confidence.”

As he recounted in a European Tour blog in late 2019, Sterne is no stranger to the operating room.

Sterne hit 13 of 18 greens in regulation and made only one bogey, at the par-4 sixth hole, his 15th of the day after starting on the back nine. He needed only 24 putts.

Kitayama, who also started on the back nine, birdied Nos. 11-13 for some early momentum and shot 7-under 65 for solo second.

"I haven't played this well in a while,” Kitayama said, “so it's nice to get a round like this.”

Kitayama, 28, a Californian who played college golf at Nevada-Las Vegas, is a two-time winner on the European Tour. He has slipped to No. 166 in the world ranking after having reached a career-high No. 66 after a T-6 at last year’s Dubai Desert Classic.

Spain’s Sergio Garcia shared third place with South Africa’s Justin Harding at 66. Garcia won the 2017 Dubai title, two months before his career-defining Masters victory.

American Collin Morikawa, the reigning PGA champion who at No. 4 in the world is the highest-ranked player entered, struggled with three bogeys and shot 71.

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