The finishing line for this year's Challenge Tour is in sight and the end of season run-in starts this week with the San Paolo Vita & Asset Management Open at Margara in Italy.
The tournament is one of the oldest on the Challenge Tour and fittingly it celebrates its 20th anniversary this week, having been inaugurated before the Tour first saw the light of day.
When it formed part of the fledgling Challenge Tour in 1989, Italy's Alberto Binaghi was the first winner and he repeated that success two years ago. The 36 year old will be in Margara again next week hoping to make it a hat-trick.
In fact, Italians have won the title on four occasions although over the past 12 years the winners have come from seven different countries.
A year ago, Sweden's Dennis Edlund ended four years without a win when he came from six shots back to take the title with a closing round of 63. It left him on 273, 15 under par, and a stroke clear of Italy's Marcello Santi.
Edlund, who will defend the title this week, signed for an eagle and eight birdies, his best return in 12 years as a professional.
The San Paolo Vita & Asset Management Open, which starts on Wednesday and has a Saturday finish, is the first of four remaining tournaments on this year’s schedule, two in Italy and two in France. The San Paolo tournament is followed by the Challenge de France at Hardelot, the Terme Euganee International Open Padova, and the Grand Final in Bordeaux at the start of November.
After the Final the leading 15 players on the rankings will secure their European Tour cards for 2002 and many of those places are still to be fought for. Those players in the leading eight positions look to have secured their cards, but those in the remaining seven places must fight hard to stay there especially with several challengers just outside the top 15 showing good form.
The importance of this week’s event is under lined by the fact that the field includes 19 Challenge Tour title holders as well as 14 of the top 15 ranked players, only Sebastien Delagrange from France being absent.
The San Paolo Vita & Asset Management Open carries a prize fund of 125,000 euro with almost 21,000 going to the winner.