Stuart Manley (Getty Images)
Stuart Manley was not in the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final a week ago, but after a top five finish in Rome last week secured his place in the season finale, the Welshman has now set his sights on gaining one of the 20 golden tickets on offer to the 45-man field.
Just four weeks ago Manley, who has divided his time between the two Tours this term, was down in 56th place in the Challenge Tour Rankings, and in danger of seeing his season end in disappointment.
But after he followed up his tied 15th finish at the ECCO Tour Championship with a tied ninth at the ALLIANZ Golf Open Grand Toulouse and a fourth at last week’s Italian Federation Cup, where he shot a round of 66 in tough conditions on the final day, Manley leapt to 36th in the Rankings and within sight of the top 20 which would secure him an instant return to The European Tour.
He said: “Obviously the goal last week in Rome was just to book my place in the Grand Final, and now that I’ve made it here the goal this week has to be to try to climb into the top 20 if I can. I’ve been in contention for the last three events now, so my form’s good and I’m gaining more and more confidence all the time.
“My scoring’s been good, mainly because my short game has been working very well. If I can sharpen up my long game a little bit, hopefully I should be in for another good week here.”
Momentum is undoubtedly with Manley, as is the fact that he has fond memories of San Domenico Golf in Puglia, Italy, which will host the €300,000 event for the fifth consecutive season.
On his previous visit to the 7,031 yards, par 72 course in 2007, Manley and his fellow Welshman Jamie Donaldson finished in a tie for second place behind winner Michael Lorenzo-Vera of France, to ensure he took tenth place in the final Rankings.
Manley recalled: “I played well here last time to finish joint second, and if I can repeat that performance it should definitely be enough to get my main Tour card back again. I remember it was pretty windy that week and I think we’re in for the same this week, so my driving is going to have to be better and it may come down to who copes best in the conditions.
“But it’s a very fair course – if you play well you can make a lot of birdies, and if you don’t then you won’t! I haven’t played a practice round yet, but a few of the guys have said the rough’s up a little bit this year and the fairways are a touch tighter, which is how it should be for the final event of the year.”
Manley is one of three Welshmen in the field this week, along with Sion E Bebb and two-time Challenge Tour champion Rhys Davies.
Of the two it is perhaps Bebb’s need which is the greater, as he currently sits in 16th in the Rankings. Bebb, who has four top ten finishes to his name this term, would dearly love to climb one place in order to guarantee more playing opportunities in The 2010 Race to Dubai.
In contrast Davies, who like current Number One Edoardo Molinari opted to play the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final instead of the Barclays Singapore Open on The European Tour, has virtually guaranteed his place in the top ten, following his victories at the SWALEC Wales Challenge and the Fred Olsen Challenge de España earlier in the season.