Friday, 19 March 2010
Eight of the leading ten ranked players will be in action this week when the Challenge Tour resumes in Spain.

The Izki Challenge de España will be played at Izki Golf in Vitoria and all 156 players will be hoping the tournament is blessed with fine weather following the abandonment of the previous event, the Credit Suisse Private Banking Open, after three days of continuous rain in Switzerland.

On that occasion, Italy's Marco Bernardini was leading after an opening 66, two ahead of his fellow countryman Stefano Soffietti. Bernardini is again in the field and will be hoping for better fortune and a first victory since his maiden triumph in the BMW Russian Open in Moscow in 2000.

Early season Challenge Tour event winners - Zimbabwe's Marc Cayeux, England's Lee James, Frenchman Jean-François Lucquin, and Simon Wakefield from England - will all be in Vitoria and hoping to build on their impressive start to the 2002 season.

Wakefield currently heads the Rankings after four impressive outings so far this year. He tied sixth in Kenya, fourth in Zambia, and was fifth in Morocco before claiming his maiden victory in the Tessali Open del Sud in Italy last month.

He is just ahead of Lucquin, who followed his victory in Morocco with a third place in Italy, while James is ranked third despite missing the cut in his last two outings. But less than 6,000 euro separates the trio.

The leading Spaniard, Ivo Giner, is fourth and will enjoy plenty of local support at Izki while strong challenges are expected from the English duo of Andrew Raitt and Ben Mason and Cayeux, ranked fifth, seventh and eighth respectively.

However, several players who just missed keeping their European Tour cards last year, are also in the field including New Zealander Elliot Boult, Scott Gardiner from Australia, David Higgins from Ireland, Mikko Ilonen from Finland, and Englishman Van Phillips, Algarve Open de Portugal Champion in 1999.

Last year when the Challenge de España was played at Villamartin, near Alicante, in late March, Scotland's Euan Little completed his maiden Challenge Tour victory. A closing round of 68 left him on 277, 11 under par, and a stroke ahead of Jesus Maria Arruti from Spain, who ran the Scot close with a course record 64 for 278.

It was a long overdue victory for Little, who had been runner-up in two events in 1998, and third in Spain in 1999.

The Izki course is comparatively new and is the work of Severiano Ballesteros. It opened in 1992 and measures 7233 yards (6576 metres) and has a par of 73.

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