As Pedro Oriol’s winning putt dropped at the Rolex Trophy, the European Challenge Tour 2017 season hit the two-third mark – 18 events played, nine to go.
As we approach the business end of the season, the fight for the top 15 spots in the Road to Oman Rankings – earning European Tour graduation at the end of the year – is really heating up.
So long, Suri
Less than 24 hours after Oriol was receiving his trophy in Geneva, Julian Suri was reaching new heights in what had already been an outstanding breakthrough season by winning on the European Tour.
The American gave notice of his growing confidence and talent with a runner-up finish in the Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort in May before taking a maiden Challenge Tour victory two weeks later in the D+D REAL Czech Challenge.
It looked like he and Aaron Rai would be engaged in a head-to-head battle for the Rankings top spot until the end of the season but the last month has changed all of that.
Suri’s superb victory in the Made in Denmark made him the first player in history to win on both the Challenge Tour and the European Tour in the same season, and secured him full status in the Race to Dubai – removing him from the Road to Oman as a result.
Rai had already secured his European Tour status too, winning for the third time at Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge, though the Englishman retains his Road to Oman Ranking and has a considerable lead at the top of almost 50,000 points.
Winning isn’t everything
Though several events with large prize funds remain, there are signs that this could be one of the tightest Challenge Tour seasons in recent memory, with Rai the only player to have won more than once this season.
Consistency is rightly rewarded, as is shown by the presence of six players in the top 15 who have yet to lift a trophy this season.
Heading them is Adrien Saddier, three times the nearly man, most recently in losing in a play-off at the Rolex Trophy, though those three runner-up finishes have taken him to fifth spot in the Rankings.
Ryan ‘Top Ten’ Evans is arguably the form player on the tour right now, the Turkish Airlines Challenge winner having now finished no worse than tied tenth in any of his last five events, and as a result the Englishman is third in the Rankings.
Tapio Pulkkanen has twice finished runner-up this year, while Chase Koepka, Bradley Neil, Mikael Lundberg and Christopher Mivis are also yet to taste the winner’s champagne but have played more than well enough to occupy the European Tour spots as things stand.
Hard to predict
Mivis has the 15th and final card at the moment, the Belgian benefitting most from Suri’s promotion to the European Tour and disappearance from the Rankings.
However, behind him is a tightly packed queue of players ready to find one or two good weeks and make significant moves up the Road to Oman.
Not even 10,000 points separate Mivis in 15th and Morten Ørum Madsen in 31st, with Paul Howard, Joel Girrbach, Garrick Porteous and Oscar Stark – all winners of Challenge Tour events this season – among those in between them in the Rankings.
It shows the depth of quality and the level of competition on this year’s Road to Oman and, with nine tournaments still to be won, much can and will change before the top 15 are decided in Muscat at the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final.