Whilst the Scottish duo of George Murray and Raymond Russell might be close in the geographical sense, their state of minds are worlds apart at this week’s Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, the final event of the 2010 Challenge Tour season.
For whereas Murray is able to relax, safe in the knowledge that his card for The 2011 European Tour International Schedule is already secure thanks chiefly to his maiden Challenge Tour victory on home soil at this year’s Scottish Hydro Challenge, Russell is in the unenviable position of 21st – just one place shy of promotion to the top tier.
The pair enjoyed contrasting fortunes at last week’s Eyptian Open presented by SODIC, where Murray – who had held the lead going into the final round – finished in a tie for second place behind the winner Mark Tullo of Chile; whilst Russell was replaced in the top 20 of the Rankings by Lee Slattery after the Englishman finished fourth, some 25 places higher than the man from East Lothian.
The €16,094 Murray collected for his tied runner-up finish moved him up to eighth place in the Rankings with season’s earnings of €86,319 and, with €51,500 available to the winner at San Domenico Golf this week, the 27 year old now stands an outside chance of deposing current Number One Alvaro Velasco from the top of the tree should the Spaniard suffer a rare bad week.
He said: “I can be a lot more relaxed going into the Grand Final now, because I virtually guaranteed my place in the top ten in Egypt last week. Hopefully that will help me to have a good week, because like most golfers I tend to play well when there’s less pressure on me.
“There’s obviously a lot of pressure on the guys outside the top 20 of the Rankings this week, whereas I’m quite lucky in that I can just go out there and try to enjoy myself. I really like the course here, and I just hope the wind blows as much as it has done in previous years, because I’m used to those sort of conditions so I feel I can maybe cope with them better than some of the other lads out here.
“I haven’t really thought about winning the Rankings, to be honest. Alvaro’s a long way ahead of me and he’s been playing very well, so he’ll be very hard to catch – I’d have to win and he’d have to have an off week. If I did manage it, obviously it’d be a huge bonus – but my main goal is not to let anyone overtake me so that I stay in the top ten. If I can do that, I’ll be a very happy man.”
Russell has no such lofty ambitions, however – his one and only goal is to climb back into the top 20 of the Rankings, in order to regain the European Tour card he lost after suffering a dip in form back in 2006.
The 1996 Air France Cannes Open winner has done remarkably well just to make this week’s 45-man field, having started the season on the ALLIANZ Tour in France after losing his playing privileges on the Challenge Tour on the back of a wretched campaign last year.
The 38 year old said: “It’s my first time playing at San Domenico, and obviously I need a good week to get back into that top 20. Obviously it wasn’t ideal to be knocked out in Egypt last week, but it is what it is. I just have to go and try and treat it like any other week, and try to focus on playing well. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s all you can do. At the end of the day, the season isn’t decided on one week.
“You get quite a few people on the Challenge Tour whining about how some events carry much more prize money than others, and that it’s unfair that someone who plays well in St Omer or Kazakhstan or at the Grand Final pretty much gets a card from just having one good week. But that’s not the way to look at it. It’s all about peaking at the right time, and the guys who have played well in the big events deserve to be up near the top of the Rankings.
“There are four major events on the Challenge Tour in terms of money, including the Scottish Challenge, and we now have one big week left to get ready for. All I can do is to play as well as I possibly can, and hope that it’s good enough. And if it’s not, well then at least I've given it my best shot, and I can have another bite at the cherry at the Qualifying School Final in December.”
The two remaining Scots in the field for the €300,000 event are Scott Jamieson and Jamie McLeary who, at 11th and 33rd in the Rankings respectively, will also have contrasting emotions as they prepare for the season finalé.