The hopes and dreams of the 45 men left standing on the 2011 Challenge Tour will either be realised or ruined at this week’s season finalé, the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final.
With 12 players in with a mathematical chance of topping the final Challenge Tour Rankings, and all 45 capable of finishing inside the top 20 to secure a place on The 2012 European Tour International Schedule, there is everything to play for at San Domenico Golf, located in the stunning Puglia region of southern Italy.
The two men most likely to be battling it out for the honour of succeeding Spaniard Alvaro Velasco as the Number One graduate are the English duo of Sam Little and Tommy Fleetwood, who currently occupy first and second place in the Rankings.
With €12,208 separating the top two, Fleetwood will need to finish inside the top five to stand any chance of overtaking the in-form Little, who has won three of the last four events in which he has competed.
But if Fleetwood succeeds in following up his victory at the lucrative Kazakhstan Open with the second title of his burgeoning career at the €330,000 Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, there would be nothing Little could do to prevent the 20 year old from becoming the youngest winner of the Rankings in the 23-year history of the Challenge Tour.
Two other Englishmen, Danny Denison (fourth in the Rankings) and Jamie Moul (sixth), also have designs on pipping their compatriots to the first prize; while three-time champion Benjamin Hebert (fifth), Julien Quesne (tenth) and two-time winner Edouard Dubois (11th) will all be bidding to repeat the feats of their fellow Frenchman Michael Lorenzo-Vera, who won the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, and with it the Challenge Tour Rankings, in 2007.
Similarly, the Italian pair of Federico Colombo (ninth) and Andrea Pavan (seventh), the latter of whom is sponsored by San Domenico Golf, will be hoping to make home advantage count in their quest to emulate the achievements of the 2009 Number One Edoardo Molinari.
Pavan, winner of the Norwegian Challenge in his rookie season, is expecting a tough test at San Domenico Golf, which is part of the European Golf Design group.
He said: “I know the course well, although it will play very differently at the Grand Final than it would during the summer months. The rough will be a lot thicker at the Grand Final, there will be a much stronger wind, and it will be bouncy and fast.
“It’s an amazing place, and I have been lucky enough to go and practice there. I was there before I won in Norway this year, so it has been a good place for me.”
Further down the list, the likes of Portugal’s José-Filipe Lima (19th) and South African Branden Grace (20th) will be keen to fend off the challenges of the English duo of Matthew Southgate and Sam Walker, respectively 20th and 21st, while Lloyd Kennedy, who qualified for the season finalé by a mere €493, will be targeting the top two finish he needs to make a late charge into the all-important top 20.
The 7,031 yard, par 71 course at San Domenico Golf, which boasts spectacular views of the Adriatic Sea , opened in 2003 and first hosted the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final two years later.
The originally flat and featureless agricultural land was shaped to create definition, resulting in a links-style layout. The course is ring-fenced by traditional stone walling, with olive trees lining a number of the fairways.
For the second successive season, the kitchen appliance brand Scholtès will sponsor the tournament, which is the European Challenge Tour’s Flagship Event, meaning this year’s winner will again receive a minimum of 16 Official World Golf Ranking points.