England’s Stuart Davis will hope history repeats itself this week when he tees up in the Kazakhstan Open, which again carries the biggest prize fund of a regular European Challenge Tour event.
The fifth edition of the €400,000 tournament, which this year moves to the Arnold Palmer-designed Zhailjau Golf Resort in Almaty, Kazakhstan, will offer Davis the chance to salvage a season which peaked with his tied 15th finish at the Open de España in May.
Since then the 36 year old has largely struggled for consistency, and so has returned to the Challenge Tour in a bid to retain The European Tour card he earned through finishing 20th in the final Rankings last year.
That he managed to finish inside the all-important top 20 on the Challenge Tour was due largely to his performance in the 2008 Kazakhstan Open, which was won by fellow Englishman Gary Lockerbie.
Davis finished two strokes behind his compatriot in second place, and his runner-up cheque for €47,300 – more than he had accrued in 17 previous Challenge Tour appearances – moved the Englishman from the relative obscurity of 97th to 18th in the Rankings.
He eventually ended the season in 20th, just €259 ahead of Paraguay’s Marco Ruiz, the unlucky “loser” who finished in 21st place, and Davis is hoping lightning can strike twice when he returns to Kazakhstan.
Davis said: “Last year I sealed my card in Kazakhstan – it’s a big money event so it wrapped it up in one fell swoop. I’m in a similar position going in this year because I’ve not played much on the Challenge Tour, but I’ve come back after having limited starts on The European Tour. It’s a different course to last year, so I’ve no idea what to expect.
“I know I can handle the pressure though – I proved I could do it last year. I had a chance of winning, but unfortunately Gary had too big a lead. I’d like to go out and win again, or even finish second again – that’s the aim.
“I’m playing so well from tee to green at the moment, but just can’t get it in the hole. In Spain two weeks ago I finished three shots back, and had ten three putts in the week. If I can start getting it in the hole, I can do some damage. Last year I putted really badly in China then went to Kazakhstan the week after and something felt good and away I went, so it could happen again.”
Davis’ compatriots Robert Coles and Peter Baker, respectively sixth and 11th in the Rankings, will continue their rehabilitations from injury intent on rubber-stamping their returns to The European Tour.
Baker recently hurt his finger in a lawnmower accident, whilst Coles suffered a calf injury during the Trophée du Golf de Genève. But having each already earned over €60,000, the duo need just one more good week to secure a place in The 2010 Race to Dubai.
Current Rankings leader Edoardo Molinari of Italy and his closest rival Andrew Butterfield of England have both already guaranteed their European Tour cards for next season, but both would dearly love to graduate as the Number One. They are currently separated by €18,052 at the top of the Rankings, but with €64,000 on offer to the winner, it could be all change this week.
Of the form horses, Wales’ Rhys Davies – winner of two of his last seven events – will have designs on the trophy on his first visit to Kazakhstan, as will Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, who captured his second title of the season in last Week’s Dutch Futures.
Like its predecessor Nurtau Golf Club, Zhailjau Golf Resort sits in the shadow of the vast snowcapped Tien Shan mountain range, which provide a visually arresting spectacle.
The 7,197 yards, par 72 course, which is set beside a new residential development and luxury hotel, also boasts a large number of water hazards.
To underline the importance of the Kazakhstan Open, in each of the four years since Ireland’s Stephen Browne won the inaugural event, the winner has progressed onto The European Tour at the end of the season.