The sixth leg of an already intriguing and expansive 2006 Challenge Tour schedule takes place this week with the staging of the Tusker Kenya Open, and if any of the competitors at the Karen Golf Club in Nairobi are in doubt about the importance of the event in the overall scheme of the season, they should give the 2005 champion Daniel Vancsik a call.
The 29 year old Argentine golfer produced a stunning last round 63 in last year’s event to storm from three shots behind going into the final day to post an eventual three shot victory over South African Michael Kirk.
The win, while doing wonders for Vancsik’s confidence, also propelled him to third on the Challenge Tour Rankings and, being one of the larger prize funds on offer over the course of the season, gave him the platform to build his year, which ended with him claiming the ninth card on offer for The 2006 European Tour International Schedule.
Vancsik also won in each of the 2003 and 2004 seasons on the European Challenge Tour but could do no better than 29th and 23rd respectively on the final Rankings, another example of why victory in Nairobi this week might prove vital to one of the Challenge Tour’s up and coming stars.
A full field of 156 will assemble in the Kenyan capital aiming for the lion’s share of the €160,000 prize fund, an increase of €10,000 on the total prize fund available 12 months ago.
Leading the way from the current Challenge Tour Rankings will be second placed Johan Axgren, the Swede owing his lofty position largely to his victory in the Kai Fieberg Costa Rica Open 2006 in San Jose in mid-February.
Helping headline the field will be Frenchman Mickael Dieu, currently in fifth place, along with the trio currently in seventh to ninth position; Argentina’s Hernan Rey, Kyron Sullivan of Wales, and Rey’s compatriot Gustavo Rojas.
The Tusker Kenya Open has enjoyed a long and successful history on the Safari Tour for almost 40 years, being a regular port of call for many European Tour players and, since its first involvement with the Challenge Tour in 1995, it has also played a significant role in helping the development of the next generation of golfing stars.
Past winners in the early days included former Ryder Cup Captain Seve Ballesteros and the current holder of that honour, Ian Woosnam, while recently, the winners four years in a row from 1997 to 2000 – Jorge Berendt, Ricardo Gonzalez, Maarten Lafeber and Trevor Immelman –all used the platform to go on and claim later European Tour success.
This week’s tournament represents the Challenge Tour’s first visit of the season to Africa having already enjoyed four co-sanctioned events with the Tour de las Americas in Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala and Costa Rica, and one event in Europe, the Estoril Challenge in Portugal two weeks ago.
The course is on the farm of renowned Danish author Karen Blixen – most famous for her book Out of Africa – and is indeed close to her former residence which is now a museum dedicated to her life.
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