Alvaro Velasco (Getty Images)
Spaniard Alvaro Velasco secured his second Challenge Tour title of the season and with it a return to The European Tour at the money-spinning Kazakhstan Open.
A majestic display at Zhailjau Golf Resort in Almaty, Kazakhstan, saw Velasco close with a round of 69 to finish on 21 under par, one shot lower than last year’s champion Edoardo Molinari of Italy.
After a stunning 65 on day three his four-birdie 69 was a more measured affair, but it was still more than good enough to take the title – and with it a cheque for €64,000 – by five shots from Italian Federico Colombo, Scotland’s Scott Jamieson and Argentina’s Julio Zapata.
The victory moved Velasco to the top of the Challenge Tour Rankings with earnings of €127,013, and guaranteed him a return to The European Tour at the first time of asking.
He said: “I’m very, very happy. I knew it was going to be a tough day, but I really enjoyed it. I didn’t play as well in the early part of my round, but then turned it around on the back nine. The birdie on the 11th was important, because it gave me a two-shot lead. Then when I birdied the 14th and Federico made a bogey, I knew that if I played sensibly I would take the title. I enjoyed the last few holes, although the 18th isn’t the easiest, so I still had to stay focused.
“At the start of the week Edoardo’s 20 under didn’t seem like a realistic target, so to beat it by one shot shows how well I must’ve played. Now that my place in the top ten is guaranteed and I’m on top of the Rankings, I can start thinking about finishing the year as the Number One. There aren’t many events left, so I just have to play as well as I can for the next six weeks or so. Obviously if I win again I get straight onto The European Tour, so that has to be another goal.
“The aim at the start of the season was to get my card back, and now that I’ve achieved that I can really enjoy the rest of the season now. I learned a lot about myself and my game last year and again this year, so hopefully when I get back on the main Tour next year, I’ll be a better player. My goal now is to win on The European Tour – I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Jamieson’s round of 67 was the joint lowest of the day with Zapata, but the Scot was left to rue a level par 72 on the third day which effectively put pay to his chances of victory.
However, his cheque for €32,000 – which like Velasco was the biggest of his career – saw Jamieson leap from 71st in the Rankings into the all-important top 20.
He said: “I definitely would’ve taken a top three finish at the start of the week, because I haven’t had a top ten all year – so this was a good time to play my best golf of the season. I didn’t drive it very well yesterday, and it’s difficult to control your ball coming out of the semi-rough. But today was much more like it – I hit a lot more fairways and greens, particularly on the front nine, which I seem to like. I didn’t manage to take any of the chances I created on the back nine unfortunately, but overall it was still a very good week.
“At the start of the week my goal was just to get into the top 45 to guarantee my place in the Grand Final, and now that I’ve managed that I have to re-assess my goals and aim for the top 20. Next week’s another big week in Russia, with a decent prize fund, so if I can play well again there, I’ll be very happy.”
Colombo’s climb up the Rankings was no less dramatic, as the Italian rocketed from 110th place to 24th and within sight of a place on The European Tour.
Zapata has already cemented his place in The 2011 Race to Dubai, the Argentine climbing into the top five with season’s earnings of €84,470.
Sweden’s Magnus A Carlsson and Australian Daniel Gaunt rounded out the top five, the duo finishing on 15 under par after carding respective rounds of 69 and 71.
Both men also climb into the top 20 of the Rankings, with Carlsson up to 13th and Gaunt three places back in 16th.