Jamie Donaldson set up the chance to finish the season as the Challenge Tour’s player of the year by establishing a one stroke lead going into the final round of the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final.
The Welshman carded an impressive three under par 68 in gusty conditions at the San Domenico Golf to move one stroke clear of his countryman Stuart Manley going into the crucial last day of the season.
With current Number One Ross McGowan of England in a tie for 24th position on two under par, and Number Two Felipe Aguilar of Chile in 12th place on six under, Donaldson can win the Rankings by securing the €42,800 top prize providing McGowan finishes outside of the top three and Aguilar misses out on second place at the conclusion of what is guaranteed to be a suspense filled final round.
Given the current leaderboard, only McGowan, Aguilar, Donaldson and Frenchman Michael Lorenzo-Vera have a chance to win the Rankings title.
Donaldson would dearly love to emerge as the player of the year, having lost his European Tour card last season. The 32 year old, who finished second on the Rankings in 2001, came back to the Challenge Tour determined to prove that he was good enough to compete at the highest level.
He will return to The European Tour no matter what happens during the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final’s last round, but would fulfil his season long goal if he returned to the stage he belongs as the Challenge Tour Number One.
“It’s going to be a very big day tomorrow,” he said. “I’m trying not to think about it and won’t think about it when I am out there. I have to do what I have been doing - one shot at a time and we’ll see what happens at the end of the day. I need to win to win the Rankings, so it’s going to be an important day.
“My goal at the start of the year was to win the Rankings. It’s not something you want to shout about because everyone wants to win it and you’re not going to say ‘I want to do this and that’, because you have to respect the guys you are playing against. I suppose I wanted to come back out here and do something, go back with a bang so to speak.
“I didn’t want to sneak a card for the main Tour. Don’t get me wrong, anyone who finished in the top 20 has had a great season, but it will be special to come out on top. That’s what I was working towards and I have a great chance to do that.”
Manley, just one shot behind the leader after a third round 69, will lead the mob of players looking to ruin Donaldson’s dream return to The European Tour, while Carlos Del Moral of Spain, Dutchman Joost Luiten, Lorenzo-Vera and Scotland’s Eric Ramsay will all be a major threat having posted three round totals of ten under 203.
Of the four men tied for third position, Del Moral made the most significant move of the third round with a quite brilliant back nine of six under par 31 in the often treacherous winds at San Domenico. The Spaniard got moving with a birdie on the ninth that he followed up with a stunning birdie-eagle-birdie sequence, finishing off with another birdie on the 17th to haul himself into contention.
It promising to be quite a climax to the Challenge Tour season, with so many of the players in the field looking for a strong finish that could see them win the ultimate prize of a place on The 2008 European Tour.