Tuesday, 13 April 1999
The European Challenge Tour resumes this week by returning to Africa for the 18 éme Open de Côte D'Ivoire in Abidjan.

The tournament, which carries a purse of 70,000 euros, has been the opening event in recent seasons as part of a two-week African swing. But this year the Tour began in Kenya and now the 18 éme Open de Côte D'Ivoire becomes the third stop-off in a long season that reaches its climax with the Grand Final in October.

There is a lot of golf to be played before then and whoever wins this week is virtually certain to be in the shake-up for a top-15 place at the end of the campaign.

This week's winner will also join an impressive list of former champions of the Côte D'Ivoire event including Gary Player, John Morgan, now a successful senior golfer, David Llewellyn, who won twice, and Gordon J Brand, who picked up the title on three occasions.

All these wins came at Yamoussoukro which hosted the event until it was switched to Abidjan in 1994. Although it reverted to Yamoussoukro in 1997, Abidjan has become its new home and will host a 156-strong field this week.

Among them will be Dutchman Maarten Lafeber and David Park of Wales, the top two on this year's rankings. Lafeber won the Tusker Kenya Open in Nairobi with a closing 64 for a 19-under-par 265, three ahead of Sweden's Erik Andersson, while another Swede, Ola Eliasson, was pipped by Park's last hole birdie for the OKI Telepizza Challenge in Spain two weeks ago.

No doubt, the Open de Côte D'Ivoire will be just as closely fought as it was a year ago when Sheffield-based John Mellor started the final round four shots off the pace but took the title with a course record 66.

It left him on seven-under-par 281, three shots clear of José Sota of Spain and Sweden's Fredrik Lindgren. Mellor was still behind with two holes to play but Sota and Lindgren double-bogeyed the 17th while Mellor hit the flag with his approach to the 18th for his seventh birdie to settle the issue.

"It was a beautiful way to start the season," said Mellor. "I couldn't have imagined this but I played well all week without getting many putts to drop. In the final round I hit a lot of greens and got the ball into the hole."

Both Mellor and Lindgren went on to secure their European Tour cards for 1999 so there is every chance that this week's winner will do the same.

Traditionally the African events offer invitations to past champions and among this week's field are Scots Bill Longmuir, winner in 1983, and Billy McColl, the 1984 champion. With another experienced Scot, Mike Miller, also in Abidjan, it should be a time for reminiscing.

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