The European Tour returns to South Africa this week for the Joburg Open at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club. Home player George Coetzee is the defending champion.

Lowdown:
The European Tour returns to South Africa this week for the Joburg Open at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club. Home player George Coetzee is the defending champion.

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 six 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, George Coetzee fired a closing round of 66 to claim his first European Tour victory, after 24 previous top-10 finishes on the circuit. The South African is looking forward to defending the title.

“I have always enjoyed the event and the venue. It’s close to where I live, so I can stay at home and enjoy it, plus the two golf courses really suit my eye having played them a lot over the years,” he said. “My swing is starting to click and get a lot more consistent. I am picking up form slowly and hopefully that continues to pick up to the point where I am standing with that trophy in my hands again on Sunday night.”

Also in the field this week is newly named 2016 Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke. He’s hoping the new role will inspire him to better results in 2015.

“Obviously my own competitive instincts haven’t been too good of late and the captaincy might actually be a blessing in disguise in terms of my golf because it will take my mind away from practising too hard and I’ll have a lot of things to focus on,” he said. “Hopefully it will help me play a little bit better.”

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 second 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 St Andrews.

Venue: Royal Johannesburg & Kensington GC, Johannesburg, South Africa
Date: Feb 26 – Mar 1
Course stats: East Course – par 71, 7,590 yards; West course – par 71, 7,203 yards
Purse: €1,300,000 Winner: €206,050
Defending Champion: George Coetzee (-19)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 26 – Sky Sports 4 from 8.30am
Friday 27 – Sky Sports 4 from 8.30am
Saturday 28 – Sky Sports 4 from 10.30am
Sunday 1 – Sky Sports 4 from 10am

Player Watch:
Andy Sullivan – The Englishman won last time out in South Africa, the South African Open in January. He was also tied fourth in the Dubai Desert Classic at the start of this month.

Thomas Pieters – The young Belgian clearly has great talent and he’s on solid form so far in 2015 with no missed cuts on the European Tour. He was tied 4th in Abu Dhabi and tied 16th in Malaysia at the start of this month.

Max Kieffer – A young player who has been performing solidly if unspectacularly so far in 2015. Like Pieters, the German hasn’t missed a cut this year. If he can put four good rounds together, he could be a factor 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.