Multiple European Tour winners José Manuel Lara and Pablo Martin Benavides will tee it up in the Challenge de Catalunya this week looking to plot their path back to the big time as part of a strong home contingent at Lumine Golf & Beach Club.
They will spearhead a 27-strong Spanish challenge in their homeland’s north-eastern corner, alongside a host of top talent looking to kick-start their season.
Lara has won twice on The Race to Dubai since his first European Tour season in 2002, and having had injury troubles in recent months, is excited to return to competitive action on a circuit that has improved leaps and bounds since he graduated from the Challenge Tour with the 11th card in 2001.
“I am feeling well physically, which is the main thing, so the key has been to practise, start feeling better and get my confidence back on the course,” said the 36 year old from Valencia. “My back is okay now after the surgery at the end of January, and I have played two events since and it has felt alright.
“I’m back on the Challenge Tour again, which is completely different from when I played here a long time ago. The standard is much higher now, we have really good players out on course and it is going to be a tough competition this week. We are playing on a great course, and if the wind blows it will play very long.”
Three time European Tour winner Martin Benavides echoes the sentiment of compatriot Lara in his praise of the course, and in his hope that he can rediscover his best form on the Challenge Tour this season.
Hailing from Malaga, on Spain’s southern coast, the 28 year old announced himself to the golfing world when he became the first amateur to win on The European Tour at the Open de Portugal in 2007.
From there consecutive titles followed at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa from 2010, but since then his form has suffered somewhat, and he is in Catalunya this week looking to begin his journey back to the top.
“My game is getting much better,” said Martin Benavides. “I played in South Africa and missed the cut but still shot under par, so I was close to making it, and am generally feeling happier about things as the results are starting to show.
“I have made little changes to my game, I’m just trying to get the puzzle pieces in the right place, and when I do things will start to come out bit by bit. My goal is to shoot better scores to get me into more events so I can eventually get back to the level I was, or even better.
“I did not know Lumine before and I think it is a good course, very good conditions, and a fine example of what you can get from terrain like this. They have done a spectacular job as they have a great team here who really know what to do and this course is even better than some we play on The European Tour.”
Alongside Lara and Martin Benavides will be current Challenge Tour Rankings leader Jordi Garcia Pinto, who is based just up the road in Girona, and he will hope that a few home comforts can make for another solid week on home soil, having finished runner-up three weeks ago at the NH Collection Open in Sotogrande.
Also in the field, and looking to find their best form once again, are Welshmen Rhys Davies and Bradley Dredge, as well as England’s Oliver Wilson, who have all played well of late.
Both Dredge (tenth) and Davies (12th) fared well at the NH Collection Open, while Wilson put together three fine rounds at the Barclays Kenya Open in March en route to a tie for 17th place.
All three will hope to improve on those results this week as they look to climb the Rankings, as will Pedro Oriol – currently fifth on the Challenge Tour Rankings – as well as Martin Lafeber (eighth), Pontus Widegren (13th), Daniel Im (18th) and Byeong-hun An (19th).
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