The three top ranked players on the Challenge Tour all arrived at the Kazakhstan Open with the same aim: to win the event and stake their claims to end the season as the Number One graduate.
Portugal’s Ricardo Santos, who currently leads the way with season’s earnings of €89,816, and his two closest rivals in the Rankings, the English duo of Danny Denison (€76,713) and Jamie Moul (€74,216), were all in confident mood ahead of the €400,000 event, which returns to the magnificent Nurtau Golf Club in Almaty, Kazakhstan, after a two-year absence.
Victory for any of the trio, who are all looking forward to a debut campaign on The European Tour next year, would give them a virtually unassailable lead in the Rankings, especially as Frenchman Benjamin Hebert – who was second – is now plying his trade on The European Tour after earning instant promotion courtesy of his third victory of the season at the Rolex Trophy two weeks ago.
Santos, who will make his debut alongside younger brother Hugo at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in November, is the man to be shot at, but having finished in a tie for 16th place the last time the event was played at Nurtau Golf Club in 2008, the Portuguese is hopeful of extending his lead at the top of the Rankings.
He said: “I really like the course here – Russia is probably my favourite, but Nurtau is a close second. It’s quite tough in the rough, but that’s how it should be for such a big tournament. Hopefully I can have a good week and stretch my lead in the Rankings, but it’s not going to be easy because the guys sitting next to me [Denison and Moul] are both very good players, so I will have to play well – and also hope for a bit of luck, because you need that to win.”
Like Santos, Denison and Moul both secured their debut Challenge Tour victories this term, since when the pair have flourished.
Denison in particular has good reason to celebrate, having been forced to consider his long-term prospects after suffering career-threatening injuries in a serious car crash four years ago.
But the 26 year old from Leeds has bounced back to form and full fitness in spectacular fashion this term, winning the ECCO Tour Championship, and a second victory of the season this week would put the seal on the most successful season of his career.
He said: “Obviously the win in Denmark gave me a lot of confidence and I’ve got a good record here in Kazakhstan, so there’s every reason to think I’m going to have a good week. But unfortunately golf doesn’t always work out like that, so I’m certainly not taking anything for granted.
“Like Jamie and Ricardo I’ve virtually secured my card for next season already so maybe the pressure is off us a little bit, but I’ve still got everything to play for because the prize fund is so huge compared to other tournaments. Hopefully if I can keep my form going this week and next, I’ll be in a good position and can maybe then think about winning the Rankings.”
Moul, who has embarked on a stunning run of form since winning the Acaya Open in July, is making his first visit to Nurtau Golf Club, and was impressed with what he saw in the Pro-Am, which was won by Austrian Roland Steiner.
He said: “It’s a very good course, and quite a challenging one, so I’m really looking forward to getting out there tomorrow. The forecast is great and everyone’s been looking forward to the tournament, so it should be a good week. I’ve been playing well all season really, but the win did wonders for my confidence and I haven’t looked back since. Ricardo deserves to be top of the Rankings because he’s played the most consistent golf this season, but hopefully I can have another good week here and try to close the gap on him. It should be fun.”