The European Challenge Tour’s leading lights will take one of the Tour’s most keenly-anticipated journeys of the campaign when they go East for two of the biggest tournaments on the Schedule, beginning at the M2M Russian Challenge Cup, near Moscow, before moving onto Almaty for the Kazakhstan Open.
As the battle for the 45 spots at the season-ending Apulia San Domenico Grand Final and, more importantly, the 20 European Tour cards on offer intensifies, there is plenty at stake in the Russia-Kazakhstan leg of the Challenge Tour.
The M2M Russian Challenge Cup offers one of the bigger prize funds of the year, €200,000, while the €400,000 Kazakhstan Open offers the biggest purse of the season for a regular Challenge Tour event.
Since its inception in 2005, every winner of the Kazakhstan Open has gone on to gain a card for The European Tour, and the last three victors in the Middle Asian nation have emerged as the Challenge Tour’s Number One player that same season – beginning with Italian Edoardo Molinari in 2009, then Spaniard Alvaro Velasco in 2010 before England’s Tommy Fleetwood repeated the feat last year.
The winner of last year’s M2M Russian Challenge Cup, Englishman Sam Little, also gained automatic promotion to the top tier last year thanks to three victories in a season on the Challenge Tour.
For the players who did not make it into the 42-man field at this week’s Rolex Trophy, it presents an opportunity to make up for lost time and push up the Rankings, while those just on the bubble of the top 20 will not get a better chance to stake their claims for a golden ticket to The 2013 Race to Dubai.
For those players further down the Rankings, meanwhile, it can prove a crucial fortnight in turning their seasons round.
Last year, Little’s win in Russia elevated the Englishman from 43rd place in the Rankings to sixth, before his eventual rise to The European Tour, while his compatriots Andrew Johnston and Sam Walker moved into the top 20 on their way to gaining European Tour cards thanks to their respective second and tied third finishes.
In Kazakhstan, meanwhile, Fleetwood’s superb win moved him from 18th place in the Rankings to the very top, and secured his playing privileges for The European Tour, while it was also crucial for the likes of Matthew Southgate and Simon Thornton, who both finished tied third last year, in earning their European Tour status.
No matter what their form up to this point, the two week stint in Russia and Kazakhstan is sure to change many a player’s season.