South African Michiel Bothma will look to extend his lead at the top of the Challenge Tour Rankings at this week’s Allianz Challenge de France, the first event of the 2011 season to be played in Europe.
Bothma climbed to the top of the Rankings after capturing his maiden Challenge Tour title at the Barclays Kenya Open, where he prevailed by two strokes from his compatriot Tyrone Ferreira.
The €30,400 winner’s cheque helped the 38 year old overtake Argentina’s Joaquin Estévez, who preceded Bothma into the winner’s enclosure at the Abierto International Copa Antioquia.
Since his stunning victory in Colombia, where he birdied the final four holes before edging out Frenchman Charles-Edouard Russo with yet another birdie on the first extra hole, Estévez has continued his impressive early-season form, finishing runner-up behind Paraguayan Héctor Céspedes at the Abierto del Centro 2011 on the Tour de las Americas two weeks ago.
Estévez will attempt to regain his place at the top of the Rankings at Golf Disneyland, near the French capital Paris, the scene of four-time Major Champion Phil Mickelson’s sole victory on the Challenge Tour at the 1993 Tournoi Perrier Paris.
The home contingent are strongly represented, with François Delamontagne, Michael Lorenzo-Vera, Jean-François Lucquin and Julien Quesne all vying to become the first Frenchman to triumph on the Challenge Tour since then-amateur Romain Wattel won the Allianz Europen Strasbourg-Golf de la Wantzenau in September 2010.
Lucquin won the 2008 Omega European Masters en route to finishing a career-high of 52nd on the money list, some six years after graduating from the Challenge Tour in second place in the Rankings. But since his victory at Crans-sur-Sierre Lucquin has struggled to reproduce his best form, resulting in his losing his playing privileges last year, and he will attempt to rebuild his career on the Challenge Tour.
Delamontagne staged his usual rescue act last season, taking the 30th card at the Qualifying School after finishing 146th in The Race to Dubai, but his appearances this term have been limited due to his lowly category – his last appearance was at the Sicilian Open in March – so the 32 year old has identified this week’s event as an opportunity to sharpen his competitive instincts.
Lorenzo-Vera and Quesne are both former Challenge Tour champions, having won the 2007 Apulia San Domenico Grand Final and the 2009 Rolex Trophy respectively, and Lorenzo-Vera will be keen to kick-start his 2011 campaign with a strong display on home soil.
Quesne, who graduated to The European Tour in 2009 after finishing eighth in the Rankings, signalled an encouraging return to form with a tied ninth finish at the Barclays Kenya Open.
Scotland’s Marc Warren was also heartened by his display in Nairobi, finishing in a tie for sixth place despite suffering a neck injury at the start of the week, and the two-time European Tour champion, who topped the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2007, continues his quest to regain a place on the top tier at Disneyland Golf’s 6,597-yard, par 71 course.
His compatriot and fellow European Tour champion Alastair Forsyth is also on a recovery mission, having finished in 127th place in The 2010 Race to Dubai, and the 35 year old will be looking to take home the lion’s share of the €150,000 prize fund on his first Challenge Tour appearance of the season.