With six events played on the 2018 Road to Ras Al Khaimah we look back at some of the intriguing storylines that have emerged through the opening two months of the European Challenge Tour season.
It’s fair to say that one man has dominated thus far. Italy’s Lorenzo Gagli currently sits 37,000 points clear of his nearest challenger at the summit of the Road to Ras Al Khaimah Rankings thanks to a stunning start to his 2018 campaign.
After holding his nerve to prevail in a three-hole play-off in the season-opening Barclays Kenya Open, the most lucrative event on the Challenge Tour’s International Schedule, the 33 year old has played like a champion after he admitted that a ‘weight has been lifted’ following his Kenya triumph – his first victory in 11 years.
A share of second place in Turkey, along with back-to-back European Tour top-20 finishes in Sicily and Belgium, which both count towards the Road to Ras Al Khaimah this season, have propelled the man from Florence beyond the 100,000-point mark – meaning a herculean effort will be required in order to catch him.
Gagli’s Kenya victory was made all the more special by the fact that it was his first on the Challenge Tour – a common theme among the six champions this year.
Of the six tournaments played this season, five have featured first-time winners: Gagli (Barclays Kenya Open), Kim Koivu (Belt and Road Colourful Yunnan Open), Joachim B Hansen (Turkish Airlines Challenge), Dimitrios Papadatos (56º Open de Portugal @ Morgado Golf Resort) and Liam Johnston (Andalucía - Costa del Sol Match Play 9).
An abundance of new champions has not been rare on the Challenge Tour in recent years – 17 out of 27 events in 2017 and 13 out of 27 tournaments in 2016 were maiden wins – and this trend looks set to continue in 2018.
While many new names have been etched into various trophies this season, it is the more experienced competitors who currently make up the majority of the top 15.
As things stand, only two of the top 15 are Challenge Tour rookies – Finland’s Koivu and Scotland’s Johnston – as eight of the players currently residing in the European Tour positions have spent three or more seasons on Europe’s second strongest circuit: Gagli (eight), Jens Fahrbring (three), Kalle Samooja (three), Nico Geyger (three), Ross McGowan (five), José-Filipe Lima (eight) and Stuart Manley (seven).
Despite a flurry of maiden winners this year, it still appears that seasoned competitors are having their way on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah.
Of 2018’s leading pack, four of the men in the top 20 are Swedish. Two-time Challenge Tour champion Fahrbring, who narrowly missed out on a third title in Kenya after succumbing to Gagli in a play-off, currently sits in fourth place where he is closely followed by Oscar Lengden, who occupies fith place after winning his second Challenge Tour title is as many seasons at the Challenge de España two weeks ago.
Their countrymen and past Challenge Tour winners Sebastian Soderberg and Simon Forsstrӧm sit in 16th and 19th place respectively, and will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of compatriots Marcus Kinhult, Jens Dantorp and Alexander Bjӧrk, who have all graduated to the European Tour within the past two years.