After an enthralling season spanning 26 events in 20 different countries across the globe, the battle for graduation from the European Challenge Tour will reach its thrilling climax this week at the Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club.
There are sure to be many twists and turns at the breath-taking Al Badia Golf Club, as the 44 players in the field battle it out for the 15 European Tour cards on offer against the fittingly dramatic backdrop of the Dubai skyline.
While the likes of former European Tour winners Johan Edfors and Jeppe Huldahl, as well rising stars such as former Walker Cup players Max Orrin and Steven Brown, still have work on their hands just to force their way into the reckoning for graduation, another intriguing contest takes place at the summit of the Rankings.
Andrew Johnston is currently in the driving seat to join a list which includes such luminaries as Thomas Bjørn and Henrik Stenson by being crowned Challenge Tour Number One, but three-time winner this season Moritz Lampert of Germany and former US Amateur Champion Byeong-hun An of Korea can still overtake the Englishman at the top.
Johnston, who has been on imperious form in the second half of the season – winning twice and claiming two further top three finishes at two of the most lucrative events of the season in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan – is relishing the challenge and cannot wait to get going after a brief injury lay-off.
“It’s good to be back, especially in Dubai with the nice weather,” said the 25 year old, whose victories came at the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts and Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge.
“It’s awesome here, it’s my first time to Dubai and the course is great so it’s been really good so far. It’s a pretty mad place. We went to the Dubai Mall yesterday and it’s just crazy how big it is, it’s something else.
“I’ve been back at home for the last few weeks so the weather is slightly different to say the least! I had an injury, I was training a lot and I picked up a little injury so I couldn’t play. I had planned to go down and play the Portugal Masters and then go on to Oman the following week but I couldn’t.
“It’s not too bad now. I definitely feel like I can play some good golf out here, my game feels good so I’m looking forward to it. I’ve got to try and prepare well and do my best and give myself the best chance for this week and see what happens.
“It’s really important for me to be the Challenge Tour Number One at the end of this week. My goal is to finish top. If you told me at the start of this year I would be top of the Rankings going into the Grand Final I would not have believed you.”
Edfors, meanwhile, enters this week’s thrilling season finale just one place outside the cut-off point in 16th position so a big finish in his former city of residence in the Middle East would complete his remarkable comeback from the golfing doldrums.
Having entered the Challenge Tour’s four-tournament Final Swing in 59th position and outside the frame for the limited-field final event of the season, the 39 year old is relishing the opportunity to return to The European Tour – where he has won over €5 million, having first graduated from the second tier back in 2003.
“If you had offered me a place in the Grand Final three weeks ago I definitely would have taken it,” said the Swede, who launched himself into contention for a return to European golf’s top table when he claimed a third career Challenge Tour victory at the Shankai Classic presented by IDG.
“I was hoping I could be a bit more relaxed going into this week but it looks like I’m going to have to play well out there. At least I’m still up there in a position, where if I have a good tournament I can climb into that top 15. At least I’ve given myself a chance.”
Every player in the field – which is limited to the top 45 in the Rankings but is missing one player in the shape of Germany’s Florian Fritsch, who has a fear of flying – is mathematically in with a chance of European Tour graduation, so there are likely to be many plots and sub-plots in Dubai.
Hugues Joannes is the last man in the field in 45th position but a runner-up finish or better this week could secure the Belgian a dream rise to The European Tour, depending on other results.
Source: European Tour