Four former champions will headline the field when the 17th edition of the Tusker Kenya Open on the European Challenge Tour gets underway this week at Muthaiga Golf Club in Nairobi, Kenya.
Defending champion Iain Pyman, 2007 winner Edoardo Molinari, 2006 champion Johan Axgren and 2002 winner Lee James all return to Nairobi bidding to become the first man in the event’s history to lift the trophy more than once.
Of that quartet Englishman James, whose 19 under par 265 total equalled the tournament’s lowest aggregate score, will have particularly fond memories of Muthaiga Golf Club, having triumphed there before the tournament moved to Karen Country Club in 2004.
But of the former champions it is the Italian Molinari who comes into the event in the finest form, having secured the runner-up berth at the season-opening Club Colombia Masters presentado por Samsung last month.
Molinari, back on the Challenge Tour after losing his playing privileges on The European Tour last year, had led by two strokes going into the final day at Country Club de Bogotá.
But despite a late charge he eventually succumbed by one shot to rising star Alan Wagner of Argentina, who in the process became the youngest winner of an event co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour and the Tour de las Americas.
Wagner’s breakthrough victory also secured him Category One exemption for the remainder of the Challenge Tour season, and the teenager – who is bidding to follow his close friend and compatriot Estanislao Goya onto The European Tour – will now seek to extend his lead at the top of the Rankings when he tees up at the longest-running event on the Challenge Tour Schedule.
The tournament has forged a reputation for producing noteworthy winners, including future European Tour champions Ricardo Gonzalo, Maarten Lafeber, Daniel Vansik and most notably of all South African Trevor Immelman, whose triumph at the 2000 Tusker Kenya Open started him on a journey which would culminate in his Masters triumph last year.
Last year’s victory by Pyman was also notable for the fact that it made the Englishman the most prolific winner in Challenge Tour history with seven titles.
After a seven-year absence the event now returns to Muthaiga Golf Club, where the heat and humidity will test the players as much as the demanding 6,825 yards, par 71 course.
Some notable names bidding to master the conditions and add to their haul of Challenge Tour titles include Ireland’s Michael McGeady and Sweden’s Leif Westerberg.
SWALEC Wales Challenge winner McGeady comes into the event in good form, having finished in a tie for 23rd place in only his second European Tour appearance at the recent Madeira Islands Open BPI – Portugal; whilst 2007 Kazakhstan Open champion Westerberg finished runner up at the 2004 Tusker Kenya Open behind winner Marc Cayeux of Zimbabwe.