Tommy Fleetwood, the Challenge Tour’s newest champion, will bid to stretch his lead at the top of Rankings at this week’s M2M Russian Challenge Cup, which carries an increased prize fund of €250,000 this year.
The rising star, who rocketed to the top of the Rankings after capturing his maiden Challenge Tour title at the Kazakhstan Open, has fond memories of the Jack Nicklaus-designed Tseleevo Golf & Polo Club, having finished tied runner-up at the inaugural edition of the M2M Russian Challenge Cup 12 months ago.
A repeat of last year’s performance in Moscow – where he shared second place with his compatriot Matt Ford and Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen behind the eventual champion Carlos del Moral of Spain – would put Fleetwood in pole position to end the season as the Number One graduate.
Fleetwood is relishing the prospect of returning to Tseleevo Golf & Polo Club, which boasts some of the most scenic holes on the Challenge Tour Schedule.
He said: “I absolutely love the course – it’s spectacular. The 11th, 12th and 13th are amongst the best holes you’ll ever play, but they’re also some of the toughest, so they can really make or break your round. Fortunately I played them quite well last year, and I’ll need to do so this week if I’m going to contend again.
“You really need your driver working well, because it’s a long way – especially if the course is wet. The facilities are great and the course is a great challenge, so it’s just a privilege to play there and I can’t wait to go back. I’m sure it’ll bring back fond memories after I came so close to winning there last year.
“The pressure’s off now that I’ve got my card, but I still want to finish the season strongly and win the Rankings. It’s obviously tough to win two weeks running, but I’ll certainly be giving it my best shot. I’d love to win on such a great course.”
Ford will also be bidding to go one better on his return to the 7,491 yards, par 72 layout, which was described by 18-time Major Champion Nicklaus as “one of the top ten courses I have built so far”.
The home challenge includes Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the former World Number One tennis player who switched his focus to golf after hanging up his racket.
Kafelnikov, who is Vice President of the Russian Golf Federation, said: “I take my golf very seriously – it’s my life, it’s what I do for a living now. I feel very proud to be playing here in Russia this week, and I really want to improve my results. Playing with some of the best young players in the world on the Challenge Tour can only help improve my game, so hopefully I’ll become a better player.
“If I wasn’t an ambitious person, I would never have achieved what I did in tennis. I haven’t realised my potential in golf yet, but I’m relatively young and still fairly new to the professional game, so if I keep working hard I’m sure my results will get better and better. I feel like I should be up near the top of the leaderboard but I have to be realistic, because the standard on the Challenge Tour is very high. My first goal is obviously to make the cut, and then take it from there.”
With just five tournaments left after the M2M Russian Challenge Cup and with €250,000 on offer to the field, the event could have a very significant bearing on the outcome of the final Challenge Tour Rankings.
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