Challenge Tour champion Alexandre Kaleka will lead the home charge at this week’s ALLIANZ Open Côtes d’Armor Bretagne, the first event of the 2012 season to be played on European soil.
Kaleka already has one victory in an ALLIANZ-sponsored event to his name, having won the Open de Lyon on his professional debut in 2009, and the Parisian is bidding to double his haul of Challenge Tour titles at this week’s €160,000 event, which is being held at Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André in Pléneuf, northern France, for the sixth successive season.
Having gained promotion to The European Tour through the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2010, Kaleka struggled to impose himself in the higher grade last term, with a tied fifth finish at the Irish Open his only top ten of an inconsistent season.
But a return to the Challenge Tour could help rebuild his confidence and spark a return to form for Kaleka, who finished in a tie for 25th place as an amateur at Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André in 2009.
The chief threat to the French contingent’s hopes of securing a first home win in the tournament could come from England’s Peter Baker, who won the inaugural edition of the event in 2007.
Baker beat his compatriot Ross McGowan in a play-off to land the title, with Wales’ Jamie Donaldson in third place, and the former Ryder Cup player will be bidding to become the first player to win the tournament on two occasions when he returns to Brittany this week.
Another player with proven course form at Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André is Germany’s Florian Fritsch, who will be hoping to go one better this year after finishing runner-up in 2009.
The highest-ranked player in the field is Englishman Chris Hanson, currently 11th in the Challenge Tour Rankings after a superb start to his first full season on the Challenge Tour.
Much like Kaleka, Hanson has made a big impression in the early stages of his rookie year, after winning the satellite EuroPro Tour last year, but the 26 year old is still searching for his first Challenge Tour victory after a 30th place finish at the season-opening Gujarat Kensville Challenge was followed by an impressive performance and a fourth place finish at the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Classic.
Jeppe Huldahl, winner of the 2009 ISPA Handa Wales Open, and his fellow European Tour champion Oskar Henningsson of Sweden, will both be hoping for a return to form after losing their playing privileges last season.
After an injury-ravaged campaign on The European Tour last season, Dutchman Floris de Vries is another player on the comeback trail; as is his fellow Challenge Tour champion Matt Haines of England, who will have taken encouragement from his tied fourth finish in Colombia.
Anton Haig, meanwhile, will be hoping to make an impression as he looks to return to the kind of form that helped him clinch the Johnnie Walker Classic on The European Tour in 2007 after receiving an invite for this week’s tournament in Bretagne.
Scott Henry will head to northern France in good heart, having birdied the second extra hole of a four-man play-off to win the Optical Express PGA Tour event, held last Wednesday at Spey Valley Golf Club, host venue for the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts in June.
Henry, who earned his place on the Challenge Tour after finishing fifth on the 2011 Alps Tour Order of Merit, saw off his fellow Challenge Tour Members Chris Doak and Callum Macaulay after the trio had finished level on eight under par alongside another Scot, Jason McCreadie.
Having enjoyed a stellar amateur career, Henry will now hope to make an impact in the professional arena in his first full season on the Challenge Tour.
He will be joined by another young up-and-coming Scot in Michael Stewart, who was named the Scottish Amateur Golfer of the Year in 2011 before turning pro last November and he makes his Challenge Tour debut this week after receiving an invite.