Monday, 18 October 2004
The 2004 European Challenge Tour season is set for a thrilling finale at this weekend’s Bouygues Telecom Grand Final at the Golf du Médoc, Bordeaux, France, where the top 45 players will do battle for the top 15 spots on the Challenge Tour Rankings and the chance join World Numbers One and Two, Vijay Singh of Fiji and South Africa’s Ernie Els, on The 2005 European Tour International Schedule.

With a prize fund of €200,000, the Bougyues Telecom Grand Final carries a winners’ cheque of €34,250 which offers any of the 30 players outside the current top 15 the opportunity to propel themselves into the Challenge Tour’s elite.

It should be quite a week with just under €1,000 separating England’s Sam Little in 15th place and Sweden’s Steven Jeppesen in 21st, and every player in the field having the chance to break into the top 15.

Irishman David Higgins, for instance, is in 45th position after his brilliant final round of seven under par 65 at the Donnington Grove Computacenter English Challenge Open last Sunday secured him second place and the €12,100 prize that enabled him to move from 86th to 45th on the Rankings.

The 32 year old, who graduated the Challenge Tour in second place four years ago, could make another massive jump into the to 15 if he can go one better in Bordeaux, but will meet strong resistance form those players occupying the top spots.

Of the 15 players currently positioned to step up to The European Tour, 12 look to be safe in their positions but Englishman Oliver Wilson (13th), Ariel Canete of Argentina (14th) and Little in face a week fraught with tension as they aim to fend of the challenge of the chasing pack.

England’s Richard Bland is 12th on the Rankings following his own fine performance at the Donnington Grove Country Club where he finished fourth and took his season’s earnings to €55,822.

Bland will arrive in Bordeaux buoyed not only by his fine performance last week, but also by the memories of the Challenge Tour Grand Final of 2001, when the 31 year old took the title with a stunning final round of 63 to secure a place on The European Tour.

With their places all but secure in the top 15, Bland and the ten men above him are now looking to catch Italy’s Alessandro Tadini at the top of the Rankings in order to give themselves more playing opportunities on The 2005 European Tour, with the Challenge Tour graduates taking Category ten status on Tour next season in the order in which they qualify.

“That is the new aim now,” confirmed Bland. “I think that the guys from myself and above are all safe in terms of winning their Cards. It would take a bit of a miracle to knock me out of the top 15, and it will be nice to go to the Grand Final with a bit of pressure off my shoulders. Now I am looking to win there again and try and finish as high as possible within the top 15 because that will guarantee me more starts on Tour next season.

“This will be my first time back at the Golf du Médoc and I obviously have fond memories of the place from 2001. That was one of those weeks – especially the final round – where things went my way, and I would love to win it again because I haven’t won on the Challenge Tour this season and that is the only thing I would have liked to have done that I haven’t already.”

It should be quite a week in France, where the Challenge Tour is set for another nail-biting climax.

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