Johannesburg - Will Richard Sterne’s highest-scoring record of under-par 27, which he set at the Joburg Open in 2013, be equalled or broken?
This will be the key question when the Sunshine-European tour-sanctioned tournament tees off at the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club on Thursday.
It is contested over the west and east courses for the first two rounds, enabling a large field of 200 competitors, with the final two rounds being played over the east after a cut to the top 65.
The Pretoria-based Sterne set the biggest margin so far at the Open, posting the most number of under-pars to win the showdown by seven strokes – the highest carding since the competition was first staged at the venue in 2007.
Sterne also lifted the trophy in 2008 by posting -13 after a play-off.
Closest to his tally is Charl Schwartzel, who set the pace in 2010 by posting -23 to win by six strokes.
The Open, which carries a R16.5 million prize, has seen a domination of South Africans who registered big scores on the leader board.
But Sterne’s card is yet to be matched or overtaken.
Last year’s edition saw Haydn Porteous win by -18 after beating fellow South African Zander Lombard by two strokes in a closely contested match.
A blemish-free 69 on the east course ensured that Porteous finished well and outclassed Lombard as both men earned places at The British Open Championship at Royal Troon.
Porteous will be out to give Sterne a run for his money by making a successful title defence and post the event’s biggest score.
The victor and runner-up will qualify for the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, Mersyside, in the UK from July 20 to 23. This will depend on whether they are exempted already.
Easiest for players
What makes the Joburg Open such a high under-par scoring competition compared with four other big co-sanctioned events, are the broad fairways and greens that are easy to reach.
But Theo Manyama, who has officiated at the event many times as Sunshine Tour tournament director, says the west course is usually the easiest for players.
“Most of them score lots of birdies on the west course, which makes it easy for them to accumulate high under-pars. The east course is tough, with plenty of water and green side bunkers,” he said.
Among other overseas players expected to impress are Graeme Storm and Ross McGowan (both from England); Darren Clarke (Northern Ireland) and Álvaro Quirós (Spain).
Storm won the BMW SA Open by beating pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy in a play-off at Glendower Golf Club last month.