England’s Richard McEvoy will bid to go one better than his runner-up finish of 12 months ago when he tees up at the fifth edition of the ALLIANZ Golf Open Grand Toulouse this week.
The return to Golf de Toulouse–Seilh, which marks the Challenge Tour’s fourth and final visit to France this year, should rekindle mixed memories for McEvoy, who recorded his best result of the season but still finished two strokes behind winner Richie Ramsay.
The Englishman was unable to build on the performance, however, and he eventually finished 31st in the final Challenge Tour Rankings, missing out an a return to The European Tour.
This year has been a different story, with five top ten finishes helping a rejuvenated McEvoy to sixth place in the current Rankings, which will guarantee him a return to The European Tour next season.
A win this week in Toulouse for McEvoy, whose only previous victory came at the 2005 Panasonic Panama Open, would put the icing on the cake of his most successful Challenge Tour season to date.
He said: “I’ve got very fond memories of the place, so I’m looking forward to going back. To be honest, when I first played the course I wasn’t sure it would suit my game. But the more I played it, the more I liked it. I played well and made a lot of birdies, mainly because my putting was very good. And I hardly made any mistakes – I think I only dropped three shots all week.
“I was three behind Richie going into the final day, and picked up five shots on the front nine to get right into contention. But then Richie birdied the tenth and 11th holes to open up a bit of a gap, and although I had a few birdie chances on the back nine, I didn’t take any of them and could only par in to finish on 15 under. But if I can play as well again, I’ll have a good chance of going one better. It’d be great to get a win on the board in one of the last three events to round off my season in style.”
With one eye on next year, McEvoy also feels he is now better equipped to retain The European Tour card he lost in 2007 after a season in which he made just eight cuts.
He said: “I worked really hard on my ‘scoring zone’ over the winter, so from 100 yards and under I’m now much more confident of putting it close than I was a year ago. The conditioning work I did with my personal trainer over the winter also helped me, because I now feel a lot fitter and stronger out on the course, and I was also in better physical condition coming into the season. That gave me a lot more confidence, which I carried it through the rest of this season and hopefully into next.”
McEvoy also believes the gap between the European and Challenge Tours is closing rapidly, emphasised by Ramsay’s fine performance at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the fact that four graduates from the Challenge Tour class of 2008 have won on the top tier this term.
He said: “The standard and condition of the golf courses on the Challenge Tour is improving year on year. A lot of them this season in particular have been set up like European Tour courses, so when the guys from the Challenge Tour get onto the main Tour, they’re much better prepared for it. That’s why the guys who graduated last year have enjoyed such success on the main Tour – plus the fact that the standard of players of players on the Challenge Tour is much higher now. There’s much more strength in depth now than when I first played on the Challenge Tour seven years ago.”
As if to underline that strength in depth Jamie McLeary and Eric Ramsay, two Scots who will be hoping to follow their compatriot Ramsay into the winner’s enclosure in Toulouse, currently find themselves outside the top 15 in the Rankings despite having both already won on the Challenge Tour this season.
Thus, the winners of the Hydro Scottish Challenge and DHL Wroclaw Open respectively will need to take home the lion’s share of the €150,000 prize fund in order to guarantee a place in The Race to Dubai next season.
The home charge will be led by 2008 Challenge Tour champions Francois Calmels, Alexandre Kaleka and Julien Quesne, all of whom will bid to become the second Frenchman to capture the ALLIANZ Golf Open Grand Toulouse title following Julien Foret’s victory in 2006.
José-Filipe Lima, the former Frenchman who changed his nationality to Portuguese in 2005, will head to Toulouse in fine fettle, having captured his third Challenge Tour title at last week’s ECCO Tour Championship.