Sterne won the 2008 event and again in 2013, while George Coetzee won it last year. The others who have won it since its inception – Ariel Canete, Anders Hansen, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace – are all not at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington this week, so Sterne has a shot at making it a hattrick of titles.
But even the gifted winner of six Sunshine Tour titles and six on the European Tour thinks it won’t be easy: “My results haven’t been good the last few weeks,” he said. “I need to find my game again and there is no better place than here to start. If I can get healthy and feel good for Thursday I think I can get off to a good start.”
Sterne has decided to concentrate his efforts on the US PGA Tour this year in an attempt to secure his playing privileges there, but he hasn’t had an auspicious start. “I’ve missed six cuts in a row there” he said. “It’s been a horrendous start for me and I need to keep my card somewhere, so I’m under a bit of pressure with that. I haven’t been playing very well, so that hasn’t made it easier. I’m in a bit of a tricky situation, but I’m looking forward to America.”
Despite that, he’s aware that playing on his home courses is both important and beneficial. “I’m looking forward to playing in South Africa, I enjoy it,” he said.
And the Joburg Open is one tournament in which he feels right at home. “I always try to come back and play here,” he said. “I enjoy the look of the golf courses and I’ve done well here, but I’ve also missed cuts. It’s strange.
“Hopefully this year I can put myself in contention and if I can then I know that I can shoot low scores around here. I’ve got the game to do it.”
It’s a question of having some changes he’s been working on. “I’ve been working hard at it, but in the last week I’ve been sick and haven’t done any work at all,” he said. “That hampered stuff, because I was making some changes.
“If I’m hitting it well then I feel like I can do just about anything with the golf ball. It’s been a while since I’ve had that feeling. It’s starting to come right and to control distance you need to be able to control the flight. I haven’t had any results yet, so I’m not too amped up yet.
“It would be nice to have a round of golf where I hit the ball well, make some putts, and walk off the golf course with a bit confidence. If I can do that then I think it will be a good few weeks.”