Former US Amateur Champion Edoardo Molinari of Italy will bid to win the Club Colombia Masters presentado por Samsung title for the second time, when the curtain is raised on the 2009 European Challenge Tour season at Country Club de Bogotá in Bogotá, Colombia this week.
Molinari, the elder brother of 2006 Italian Open champion Francesco, returns to Challenge Tour duty having at times struggled to find consistency on The European Tour in 2008.
The 28 year old’s highest finish last season was 15th at the South African Airways Open, but his quality is not in doubt as demonstrated by his 4&3 triumph over Dillon Dougherty at Pennsylvania’s Merion Golf Club in 2005, which saw him become the first European winner of the US Amateur Championship since 1911.
Now Molinari will hope to revive his career on a Tour which he last graced in 2007, when he finished 16th in the Rankings thanks largely to two victories, with the second coming at the Tusker Kenya Open.
Molinari’s search for a third Challenge Tour title takes him back to the scene of his breakthrough victory, which he secured after a play-off with home favourite Gustavo Mendoza.
Like then, the hot and humid conditions will test this year’s field as much as Country Club de Bogotá’s 7,099 yards, par 72 course.
But the players can draw comfort from the fact that the US$200,000 tournament, which is now in its third year, has proved something of a lucky charm for the winner, with last year’s champion Wil Besseling of The Netherlands following in Molinari’s footsteps by graduating onto The European Tour on the back of his success.
Besseling strolled to victory, beating joint runner-up Antti Ahokas of Finland and Denmark’s Mark Haastrup by seven shots. His winner’s cheque for €18,303 saw the Dutchman break into the top 20 in the Rankings and he never relinquished that position, eventually finishing in 15th place.
Like Besseling, Ahokas also earned his European Tour card at the end of the season but Haastrup, despite his victory at the 2008 Dubliner Challenge, is returning to Colombia, having narrowly missed out on graduation.
Haastrup’s fellow Challenge Tour champion Andrew McArthur is also in action, hoping this could be his year after ending the past two seasons 22nd in the Rankings – just two places outside automatic promotion.
The form horses in the field include the Argentine duo of former European Tour Member Julio Zapata and Cesar Monasterio, who won the 2005 Abierto Telefonica Moviles de Guatemala on the Challenge Tour and the 2006 Aa St Omer Open on The European Tour.
Both men performed creditably at the XXVI Abierto Internacional de Golf Copa Antioquia on the Tour de las Americas last weekend, finishing tied fifth and tied eighth respectively.
The event was won by 2004 Qualifying School – Final Stage winner Peter Gustafsson of Sweden, who prevailed by one shot from Argentina’s Daniel Altamirano thanks to a final round of 66 at Club Deportivo El Rodeo Sede La Macarena in Medellín, Colombia.
Gustafsson’s winner’s cheque for US$31,000 catapulted the 32 year old to the top of the Tour de las Americas Order of Merit, but it is the top 20 of the Challenge Tour Rankings which will now occupy his thoughts as he bids to secure a place in The 2010 Race to Dubai.
The Swede, whose highest European Tour Order of Merit finish of 46th came in 2005 thanks largely to runner-up finishes at the Open de España and Omega European Masters, said: “It’s always great to win. I’ve had some good results on The European Tour with two second place finishes and a win at the 2004 Qualifying School Final, but I haven’t won for a long time.
“I’ve been to Panama and Costa Rica before, but never to South America. The crowd, the city of Medellín and the competitors were great. It really doesn’t matter which Tour you play on – there are great players all over the world, and South America is no exception.”
Gustafsson will now seek back to back victories in Colombia as he bids to graduate from the Challenge Tour for the second time, having finished 16th in the Rankings in 2004.