Andrea Pavan’s march towards the prestigious title of European Challenge Tour Number One continued as the Italian moved into a share of the lead after the opening round of the season-ending Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club.
All eyes were on the Italian this week as he entered the Challenge Tour’s crucial finale at the top of the pile after two wins this season and, while he has already secured a European Tour card for next year, he proved just how much he covets that Rankings win with a six under par opening round of 66.
He joined Brinson Paolini of the USA at the top, two shots clear of a chasing pack which includes the closest man to Pavan in the Rankings, barring the absent Brooks Koepka - Johan Carlsson of Sweden.
The 24 year old Pavan admitted that the pressure of being the man they are all chasing has crossed his mind but he was happy with how he dealt with it.
“There is more pressure here being Number One than when I won this event two years ago,” said the four-time Challenge Tour winner. “I knew I wanted to do well today and this week so it was a little more pressure on the opening holes, but I knew that no matter how this week goes I have had a good season.
“I would like to finish it off in style, but it is important that I truly get my game and my consistency going for next year as that is where my main goals are.
“It was a good day, I started off well with a birdie at the first, and my game has been good lately. Today was a strong combination as I hit a lot of good shots and rolled some nice putts. I felt like I really had a good feeling on the greens so that was good.”
Paolini, meanwhile, has completely different pressures this week as he needs a big result at the stunning Al Badia Golf Club by InterContinental if he is to move from 28th position in the Rankings to within the crucial top 15.
The 22 year old is delighted with his start and thinks the fact that he has it all to gain and nothing to lose could work in his favour at the enthralling finale, taking place in the United Arab Emirates city for the first time.
“I really got it going on the front nine,” he said. “I hit some shots close and that gave me some momentum and I was fortunate to just kind of hold on for the back nine.
“I found a little something in my rhythm, in my pre-shot routine, earlier this week and I felt really comfortable over my shots. I was fortunate to hit it pretty close, which was the key, so hopefully it is something I can carry over the rest of the week.
“It is essentially going to need to be a win for me, top two or three could potentially do it depending on how things shake out, but in my mind it is pretty much win or bust.”
Carlsson shared third place with Frenchman Edouard Dubois, Englishman Lloyd Kennedy and Scotsman Jamie McLeary on four under par and the Swede believes he was driven in his chase to usurp Pavan as Challenge Tour Number One by the fact that he played alongside the Rankings leader and tournament co-leader.
“I think we pushed each other a little bit,” he said. “I was ahead of him a little bit and then he was ahead of me and then I had a nice spell. Then he made a good run and I came back. It helps when you have someone in your group playing good.
“It was solid. I just wanted to get off to get off to a good start and play smart on the tougher front nine and let it come to me. I think I did that and got the putter going so that saved me a little bit.”