The race to graduate to The European Tour heats up this week when the European Challenge Tour kicks off two of the most lucrative events on the 2008 Schedule with a historic first visit to China for the inaugural Qingdao Golf Open.
With a prize fund of US$500,000 on offer at Qingdao Huashan Golf & Resort, players currently on the fringes of the Challenge Tour top 20 – and automatic qualification to The European Tour next season – will have a major opportunity to surge up the Rankings.
It also presents England’s David Horsey with the chance to overhaul compatriot Seve Benson at the top of the Rankings, if he can secure his third win of the season and the first prize of US$80,000.
That would see the 23 year old become the first player to graduate instantly on to The European Tour since the three wins in a season regulation was introduced in 2005, a feat Finland’s Antti Ahokas will also be hoping to achieve following his second win at the ECCO Tour Championship a fortnight ago.
Horsey quickly followed his maiden victory at the Telenet Trophy by winning the AGF-Allianz EurOpen de Lyon but since then he has only recorded one top 10 finish, at the Ypsilon Golf Challenge by Alex Cejka, and so will be keen to make a strong start to a significant fortnight in the Challenge Tour calendar.
The Qingdao Golf Open launches a double-header in Asia, with the Kazakhstan Open – and an attractive €430,000 purse – following next week.
China, of course, has already witnessed some inspirational sporting performances this summer with Beijing hosting the 2008 Olympic Games and the leading Challenge Tour professionals will hope some of that success rubs off in Qingdao, which hosted the Olympic sailing competition last month.
Players such as Dutch pair Wil Besseling and Taco Remkes, both winners already this season, will be looking to make waves in the picturesque coastal city as they seek to seal their places in the top 20.
Besseling will hope to make amends having narrowly missed out on landing his second win when taking a two shot lead into the last hole at the ECCO Tour Championship two weeks ago, only to card a double bogey for a four way share of second place.
Dane Mark F Haastrup is another player looking to cement a top 20 spot following his maiden win at The Dubliner Challenge last week, which lifted him to 17th in the Rankings.
Haastrup, who finished tied second behind Besseling in the II Club Colombia Masters earlier in the season, admitted after his one stroke win in Sweden that he had redrawn his aspirations for the season and he will be seeking another high finish at the 7,098 yards par 72 Qingdao Huashan Golf & Resort.
Another live contender is Switzerland’s Julien Clément, who finished in a tie for third at last week’s Omega European Masters on The European Tour.