Lowdown:
The European Tour returns to South Africa this week for the Joburg Open at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club. Home player Richard Sterne 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 inclusion on the European Tour schedule, it’s been won five times by home players with Richard Sterne and Charl Schwartzel both taking the title twice. The other champions have been Ariel Canete, Anders Hansen and Branden Grace.

Last year, Sterne produced four superb rounds to post a 72-hole total of 27-under-par – seven clear of his countryman Charl Schwartzel.

Both Sterne and Schwartzel will be back this year hoping to record a third victory at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington, and they’ll be joined in the field by a strong selection of both South African stars and the European Tour’s elite.

As in previous years, the tournament will be played across Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club’s East and West courses, with the 210-man field playing each course over the first two rounds before the East Course hosts the final two days of action.

For the first time the tournament will also serve as a gateway into The Open Championship, with the top three finishers within the top ten of the Joburg Open (not already exempt) gaining a place in the field at Hoylake.

The weather for this week looks like being rather unfriendly with rain and possible thunderstorms on the forecast. Look out for some delays to the play.

Venue: Royal Johannesburg & Kensington GC, Johannesburg, South Africa
Date: Feb 6-9
Course stats: East course – par 72, 7,658 yards; West course – par 71, 7,203 yards
Purse: €1,300,000 Winner: €206,050
Defending Champion: Richard Sterne (-27)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 6 – Sky Sports 4 from 8.30am
Friday 7 – Sky Sports 4 from 8.30am
Saturday 8 – Sky Sports 4 from 10.30am
Sunday 9 – Sky Sports 4 from 10.30am

Player Watch:
Richard Sterne – Twice a winner in this event, Sterne clearly loves this course. He played well in Dubai last week, apart from a disappointing final round of 76.

Ricardo Santos – He was tied third in this event last year and could draw on those good memories to produce a solid performance again this time round.

Steve Webster – One of the form players on the European Tour right now, Webster has been tied fifth in each of the last two tournaments. He’ll look to keep that run going this time out.

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 7,658 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