An accomplished list of former winners will serve as inspiration for a strong field when the European Challenge Tour resumes its Schedule with the Tusker Kenya Open, at Karen Golf and Country Club from March 6-9.
After a three month break the Challenge Tour, now in its 20th year, arrives in Nairobi for the 16th edition of the Tusker Kenya Open, making it the second oldest event currently on the Schedule.
A roll call of past Kenya Open champions emphasises the increasing strength of both the Challenge Tour and the tournament itself: 1998 winner Ricardo Gonzalez of Argentina, who finished in a tie for sixth at the recent Dubai Desert Classic; 1999 winner Maarten Lafeber of Holland, who finished tied sixth at the inaugural EMAAR-MGF Indian Masters last month; three-time European Tour winner Trevor Immelman of South Africa, who claimed the title in 2000; and champion in 2005 Daniel Vancsik of Argentina, who won the 2007 Madeira Islands Open BPI.
The quartet subsequently graduated to, and have since kept their cards on, The European Tour – as did last year’s winner Edoardo Molinari.
Twelve months ago the Italian, who in 2005 became the first European player to win the US Amateur Championship since 1911, birdied three of the final eight holes to stage a remarkable comeback and so claim his second Challenge Tour victory of the season.
Molinari’s six under par aggregate score of 274 was enough to hold off the challenge of South Africa’s James Kamte, who finished one shot back.
Kamte’s compatriot Tyrone Ferreira, who secured eighth place and a cheque for €27,060 at January’s Joburg Open, is one of the in-form players in this year’s field, along with England’s Iain Pyman, who finished two shots and six places behind Ferreira at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
Another leading contender is Miguel Rodriguez, currently second in the Rankings and winner of the opening tournament of the season, the Abierto del Litoral Personal 2007. The Argentine will be seeking to reclaim the Number One spot from Paraguay’s Marco Ruiz, who currently leads by €4,345.
Joining Rodriguez in the field is another Challenge Tour winner Joakim Haeggman, who at The Belfry in 1993 became the first Swede to compete in The Ryder Cup.
Having triumphed twice in his homeland on the Challenge Tour in 1990 and 1992, at the Wermland Open and SI Compaq Open respectively, the 38 year old is again competing on the Tour in an attempt to revive a career which has been affected by injury in recent years.
One of Haeggman’s finest achievements came in 1997, when he equalled the world record of 27 shots for nine holes in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews; but he and his fellow competitors might find low scores hard to come by at Karen Golf and Country Club.
The lowest winning total over the 6,951 yards, par 70 course is ten under 270, posted by Sweden’s Johan Axgren in 2006 and Zimbabwe’s Marc Cayeux in 2004.