Monday, 14 May 2007

Nicolas Vanhootegem will be looking to go one better in his homeland this week as the European Challenge Tour arrives in Belgium for the Telenet Trophy, where Finland’s Toni Karjalainen will defend his title.

Vanhootegem can count himself unlucky not to be arriving at Royal Waterloo Golf Club with a third Challenge Tour title under his belt, having narrowly lost out for the A.G.F. Allianz Golf Open de Toulouse by a single stroke to Dutchman Joost Luiten last weekend.

Given that Luiten stormed through the field to secure his maiden professional win with an outstanding final round effort of eight under par 64, there was no disgrace in Vanhootegem’s second place finish after his own excellent final round effort of five under 67.

While the level of performance attained in Toulouse last week will enhance Vanhootegem’s confidence on the course, he will also be buoyed by the huge strides his second place finish allowed him to make on the Challenge Tour Rankings.

The 34 year old climbed 93 places on the Rankings, from 105th place to 12th, leaving him in a fantastic position from which he can attempt to regain his place on The European Tour via the Challenge Tour’s end of season top 20.

Vanhootegem’s bid to return to The European Tour will continue at the Royal Waterloo Golf Club this week, and he is relishing the prospect of extending his run of form in his home country, on a golf course he holds deep in his affection.

“It’s always good to be playing in your home country,” said Vanhootegem. “It can bring extra pressure because there is an expectation on the home players to do well but I am really looking forward to playing at Waterloo.

“I was there recently and the course is looking nice. The greens are very fast and it is not going to be easy to putt on them but that is because we have had 35 days of drought in Waterloo.

“They have redone all of the greens over the last couple of years, so, despite the drought, they are looking good. Waterloo is one of the oldest, and best, courses in Belgium and it would be great to win there.”

Vanhootegem will have to overcome a strong Challenge Tour field if he is to give the local fans a home winner in Belgium.

Not only will he renew his rivalry with Luiten, who is now third on the Rankings with €32,802, but he will come up against Challenge Tour Number One Edoardo Molinari of Italy, who is looking for the magic third victory on the 2007 Schedule that would secure him instant and automatic promotion to The European Tour.

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