Paraguay’s Marco Ruiz remains in pole position going into the delayed final round of the European Challenge Tour’s Apulia San Domenico Grand Final as many of the field of 45 players prepare themselves for the most nerve wracking 18 holes of the year which will determine who makes the step up to The 2006 European Tour.
With 20 Tour cards available through the Challenge Tour Rankings it is all to play for at the fantastic San Domenico Golf Club on Italy’s south east coast, where Ruiz will meet some fierce resistance to his bid to take the €42,800 first prize that could make all the difference to so many of the competitors’ seasons.
After a third round of four under par 68 amidst some strong gusting winds from the Ardiatic sea, Ruiz leads Englishman Benn Barham and Spain’s Carl Suneson by two strokes, with Lee James of England in fourth place on ten under par. One stroke further back are England’s James Hepworth and Scotland’s Marc Warren – with all of those players at the top end of the leaderboard chasing that top prize for differing reasons.
Respectively 14th and 15th on the current Rankings, Suneson and Ruiz are chasing the winners cheque to haul themselves into the top ten and guarantee a better Category for The 2006 European Tour, while Barham (currently tenth) and Warren (sixth) have their eyes on the Challenge Tour Number One spot which is presently occupied by Sweden’s Fredrik Widmark, who si tied for tenth place on six under par going into the final round.
Hepworth, meanwhile, has to win on Saturday to ensure he barges his way from 39th spot on the Rankings into the all important top 20.
For the moment, Ruiz is the man to catch and he will take some beating if he can repeat his third round performance that got off to the perfect start with an eagle three at the par five first hole.
“It was a difficult day today with the wind but I managed to start with an eagle on the first hole today and I was able to take a lot of confidence from that,” said Ruiz.
“I’m delighted to be at the top of the leaderboard and tomorrow I just want to go out there and enjoy the day. No matter what happens, I will be happy. If I can have a good day tomorrow then I can move far up the Rankings which would be wonderful.
“If I win I would get a fantastic welcome when I go home in Paraguay. It would be great and I would be able to look forward to playing on The European Tour next year.”
Barham posted a five under 67 to haul himself into contention to win his second Challenge Tour title of the season and give himself a real chance of knocking Widmark off the top spot. The 29 year old has done his best not to look at the endless possibilities that come with the Challenge Tour’s final event of the year, but is well aware of what a victory would mean for his season.
“I’m quite annoyed at because I bogeyed the 18th today but it was a good day for me overall,” he said. “I played great because the conditions were really tough. I drove the ball brilliantly and putted great and it was nice to move up the leaderboard and get ready for tomorrow.
“A good round tomorrow and I will have a real chance of winning the Rankings. I have been trying not to look at the Rankings and the money this week because golf can be a cruel game. It’s not like football when you can be three-nil up and not lose. In this game, one bad shot or one bad bounce and you are out of it.
“But I have a chance to win the Challenge Tour tomorrow and that is a hell of an incentive to play well. I feel that I have been in great form for most of the season and the position that I was in on the Rankings at the start of the week isn’t a great reflection of how well I have played so it would be nice to finish somewhere nearer the top.”
Suneson, who matched the seven under par course record set by Ireland’s Stephen Browne in the second round at the San Domenico Golf Club, has been there and done it all before having won the Challenge Tour Rankings in 1999.
“It was an awesome day for a 65, especially with the conditions because it was tough out there to day and with a score like that I managed to make up a lot of ground on the guys that were in front of me. I had everything going for me today and that’s why I was able to shoot a good score out there today.
“I am in a good position – part of me wishes that today was the final round – but we will see what happens tomorrow. Subconsciously I know what I have to do but so many things can happen this week that I haven’t thought about it that much. I just have to do my job and believe that I can do it – you just have to worry about myself because if you are good enough the there is no-one else that can catch you.”