All eyes will be on Sweden’s Joakim Haeggman and Paraguay’s Marco Ruiz after two of the biggest names in the field were paired together on day one of the inaugural DHL Wroclaw Open on the European Challenge Tour.
The pair currently lie ninth and seventh respectively in the Challenge Tour Rankings, with one victory each to their names this season – Haeggman at the AGF-Allianz Open Côtes d’Armor, and Ruiz at the 102nd Abierto VISA de la Republica presentado por Peugeot.
Ruiz comes into the tournament, played at Toya Golf and Country Club in Wroclaw, Poland, as one the form players after a series of solid performances on both The European and Challenge Tours.
The Paraguayan’s recent run started with top 15 finishes at both the II Club Colombia Masters on the Challenge Tour and the Open de España on The European Tour at the start of the month, before his pursuit of a full-time return to The European Tour International Schedule took him to Italy.
Having led after the opening round of the Methorios Capital Italian Open in Milan, Ruiz eventually finished in a tie for 38th. The 33 year old slipped six places when he returned to Challenge Tour duty at the Piemonte Open, finishing in a tie for 44th – but by his own admission Ruiz is grateful just to be competing again, having suffered a serious back injury two years ago.
He said: “When I was young, I used to play lots of volleyball. I never used to take care of myself. And in 2005, when I earned my card for The European Tour from the Challenge Tour, I played so many tournaments in a row that it affected my back again. It’s a long way to travel from South America to Europe, and that caused a lot of stress on my back. It was very difficult for me, and I had to take eight months out of the game.”
Another barrier Ruiz had to overcome was the lack of opportunities to play golf in his native Paraguay.
He said: “There are 20 professional golfers in Paraguay, and we only have five courses. Carlos Franco has his own course. It’s not a very popular sport. If people ask what you’re doing with your life and you tell them you’re a professional golfer, they think you’re crazy. The big sport is football. We only have a population of five million. It’s a very small country.”
In stark contrast, Haeggman had no such hindrances, growing up in a country renowned for its abundance of golf courses.
After turning professional in 1989, the former Ryder Cup player enjoyed a remarkable rise up the Rankings, before injury problems intervened and he lost his way.
But after returning to the winner’s enclosure in France last month courtesy of his second Challenge Tour victory, Haeggman feels his game is coming together.
He said: “Obviously it’s still going to take a lot of work to get back to where I was, but the signs are good. I’m starting to find the fairways off the tee again now, which is a start. My short game is also improving all the time, and that’s the key to a low score.
“The main thing is that I’ve got my confidence back now, and I’m in the right frame of mind to start winning golf tournaments again. It’s not a case of reaching out blindly to find some form – it’s more a case of looking inside to bring out the game I know I have. If I can find it consistently, I know I’m good enough to compete and win again on The European Tour. That’s the ultimate goal, but I’m taking it one week, one day, one shot at a time.”
Other notable names in the hunt for the €150,000 prize fund include England’s Jim Morrison, who led after the first round of the Piemonte Open before eventually finishing fifth; and Brazil’s Alexandre Rocha, currently third in the Rankings.
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