World Number 18 Charl Schwartzel and defending champion Richard Sterne will both aim to claim their third Joburg Open titles and continue South Africa’s dominance of the event when they tee up at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club this week.
Last year Sterne stormed to victory by seven shots from Schwartzel to record his second success in the €1.3million event, having first triumphed in 2008, when he beat Magnus A Carlsson and Garth Mulroy in a play-off.
Sterne set a tournament record with his 27 under par aggregate total – the next lowest was Schwartzel’s 23 under par score in 2010 – in a dominant display which brought the 32 year old his sixth European Tour victory, and his fourth on home soil.
Having also finished runner-up in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic the previous week, he would later record a further three top ten finishes in 2013 – including runner-up in the Alstom Open de France – en route to finishing a career-high eighth in The Race to Dubai.
This season Sterne is yet to kick into top gear, but the Pretorian is hoping his return to a happy hunting ground will inspire a change in his fortunes.
“I love the course,” he said. “I really like the layout and the course just suits my eye.
“I’m obviously used to the conditions and it’s the same grass I grew up playing. That definitely helps and it’s horses for courses, I suppose. A lot of players generally do well in the same places year after year, and that’s been the case for me in Joburg.
“Last year it was great to put in a good round on the last day. It was really nice to have a comfortable lead going into the last few holes, because it meant I didn’t have to worry and I could just enjoy it.
“I hit some good shots and make some great putts on the last day when it counted, and that gave me a lot of confidence to take through the rest of the year.”
If anything, Schwartzel’s record in the tournament is even more impressive, with the Major Champion having finished inside the top five in four of his seven visits to Royal Johannesburg and Kensington GC.
In addition to his back-to-back victories in 2010 and 2011, Schwartzel also finished a distant runner-up to Sterne last year and in a tie for fourth place behind Anders Hansen in 2009.
The 29 year old, who is currently fourth in The Race to Dubai, heads to Johannesburg in search of his second victory of the season after winning his ninth European Tour title with a successful defence of the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December.
Five of the seven editions of the Joburg Open have been won by South Africans, with Hansen and Ariel Canete – winner of the inaugural event in 2007 – the only ‘foreign’ players to have lifted the trophy.
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 Royal Liverpool Golf Club.