Lowdown:
The European Tour returns to South Africa this week for the Joburg Open at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club. Home player Branden Grace defends the title.

First played on the European Tour back in 2007, this event is co-sanctioned with the South African Sunshine Tour. Since its first inclusion on the European Tour schedule it’s been won by Ariel Canete, Richard Sterne, Anders Hansen, twice by Charl Schwartzel and last year by Branden Grace.

It was Grace’s first victory on the circuit, one he secured by just a single shot from England’s Jamie Elson. The young South African went on to enjoy a stellar season, recording three more victories on the Tour and finishing the season sixth on the Race to Dubai.

This is one of only two events on the European Tour schedule to be contested over more than one course (the other being the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.) Entrants play one round on the East and one round on the West course before those who make the cut play two further rounds over the longer East course.

As such, this is one of the largest fields of the year with 210 players starting the tournament. A large bulk of the field is made up of home players and many of those with a lower European Tour ranking will also have the chance to play this week.

Two-time champion Charl Schwartzel will make a start, so too will his countrymen George Coetzee, Richard Sterne and Thomas Aiken.

Venue: Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club, Johannesburg, South Africa
Date: Feb 7 – 10
Course stats: East course – par 72, 7,592 yards; West course – par 71, 6,618 yards
Purse: €1,300,000 Winner: €206,050
Defending Champion: Branden Grace (-17)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 7 – Sky Sports 1 from 8.30am
Friday 8 – Sky Sports 2 from 8.30am
Saturday 9 – Sky Sports 4 from 10.30am
Sunday 10 – Sky Sports 3 from 10.30am

Player Watch:
Two-time champion Charl Schwartzel will start as the heavy favourite, but who else might play a role this week?

Richard Sterne – Second place last week in Dubai suggests the South African is on form. He’s a former winner of this event and could feed of those good memories.

Marc Warren – The Scot will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Stephen Gallacher and Scott Jamieson to become the third Scottish winner on the 2013 European Tour. He was tied third in this event last year.

Michiel Bothma – An outside chance. The 39-year-old was tied third in this event last year and could just spring a surprise this week.

Key hole: 11th (East Course.) It’s a 500-yard par four and the length alone makes it a challenge. But it also requires a straight tee shot then a precise approach over water. It’s a great spectator hole and one where large scores can be racked up.

Skills required: Power hitting. At 7,590 yards, the East Course is one of the longest to feature on this year’s European Tour. Long, straight drivers are at a distinct advantage here.

Where next?
PGA Tour –
AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am preview