England’s Lee James is praying for wind and rain when he defends his title at this week’s ALLIANZ Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne on the European Challenge Tour.
Twelve months ago, James captured his fifth Challenge Tour title when he saw off Germany’s Florian Fritsch in a play-off at a windswept Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André in France, which will host the €150,000 event for the fourth successive season.
Despite the victory – which took him up to joint fifth place on the all time Challenge Tour Winners’ List behind his compatriot Iain Pyman – James was unable to maintain his momentum for the remainder of the campaign, eventually finishing 29th in the final Rankings.
But the Englishman is hopeful of another bold bid in Brittany this week, particularly if the wind is whipping in off the English Channel as it was last year.
James said: “It’s a course I enjoy playing, so I’m looking forward to going back. We had some rain and plenty of wind last year, and I’m hoping for more of the same this time – the tougher the better for me. One of my strengths is grinding it out, so I’ll be very happy if the wind blows again because I feel I maybe cope better in those kind of conditions than some of the other players out here. But if it’s very calm and it turns into a putting competition that probably wouldn’t work in my favour, because putting’s probably one of the weakest areas of my game.
“I played really nicely last year, particularly on the last day. I think I only missed one green all day, which was pretty good going considering the weather we had. I really enjoyed playing with Florian – it was the first time I’d met him, and we were laughing and joking all the way round, which obviously helps you to relax. I had a lot of fun, and it obviously helped that I won.
“But having got the victory so early in the season, I was disappointed not to push on and finish in the top 20 come the end of the year. I had a particularly poor run of results in the middle part of the season, and left myself far too much ground to make up at the end of the year. I was wayward off the tee and also struggling on the greens, which isn’t a great combination!
“But I put in a lot of work over the winter, and my game’s slowly getting there. I struck the ball really well in Colombia, but just putted poorly again. It was pretty much the same story in Kenya, but I played much better in Turkey, so hopefully I can take some confidence to Brittany and have another good week out there.”
Fritsch returns to the 6,442 yard, par 70 course hoping to go one better than last year, when victory would have put him alongside his friend and compatriot Martin Kaymer in the illustrious group of players who have won on their professional Challenge Tour debuts.
The man from Munich carried a two-shot lead into the final round, but allowed James to seize the initiative after running up successive double bogeys on the back nine.
He rallied with a closing birdie to force the play-off, but missed his birdie attempt on the first extra hole to give James the chance to seal victory, which he duly took with a confident putt from six feet.
James’ compatriot Charlie Ford is the form man in the field, having arrived in Brittany on the back of capturing his maiden Challenge Tour title at last week’s Turkish Challenge hosted by Carya Golf Club.
Ford, who saw off Sweden’s Oscar Florén at the first extra hole to climb to second place in the Rankings behind his compatriot Robert Dinwiddie, said: “It was great to get a win so early in the season, because it takes some of the pressure off for the rest of the year. I can now relax and enjoy my golf even more, and hopefully that’ll bring me more rewards. I had a few drinks to celebrate after the win in Turkey, but it’s back down to business in Brittany. It’s always tough to follow up a win with another good performance, but I’m going to get my head down and give it my all. I’ve got the following week off, so I can have a bit of down time then.”
Past winners of the ALLIANZ Open Cotes d’Armor Bretagne include former Ryder Cup players, with England’s Peter Baker taking the title in 2007 and Sweden’s Joakim Haeggman following him into the winner’s enclosure a year later.