By Tony Jimenez
GULLANE, Scotland (Reuters) - The Royal & Ancient (R&A) avoided a "real disaster" by watering the Muirfield greens midway through the British Open, according to Joburg Open champion Richard Sterne.
The British Open organizers said on Saturday their decision to water the putting surfaces meant they were less firm and that was enough to satisfy South African Sterne who fired a third-round 68 that he felt could have turned into a much lower score.
"I found it a lot better today," the 31-year-old told reporters after finishing on five-over 218. "The greens were more receptive and the flag positions were a lot more accessible.
"Receptive in a way so you could at least attack them on certain holes and the pace of the greens were much friendlier.
"The course was almost going to get unplayable if they didn't do anything about it. I'm glad they did otherwise I think it would have turned into a real disaster," said Sterne.
"Even if the wind picks up a bit later today I think the scoring will be better."
Sterne, playing in the opening match of the day in the third round, mixed four birdies with a solitary bogey on another sun-drenched day on the picturesque east coast of Scotland.
"If the light winds die down someone could shoot a 65 today, maybe a 64," said the world number 34. "But I think it's going to get a bit firmer as the day gets on and the greens will become a bit bouncier.
"If you just think you can take it on at the wrong time this course will bite you. I played well and I definitely left four or five shots out there...it could have been something special."
Sterne won for the sixth time on the European Tour when he lifted the Joburg Open title for the second time in his career in February.
He went close to taking his tally to seven victories two weeks ago when he finished runner-up to Britain's Graeme McDowell in the French Open at Versailles.
"It's been a pretty consistent year," said Sterne. "I've been happy with it.
"I'd just like to keep the consistency going and ... I'd really like to win a big event."
(Editing by Justin Palmer)