Daniel Gaunt returns to the Belgian Challenge Open this week believing he is “definitely going to win this year”, and hoping that victory can come in the shape of a successful title defence at Cleydael Golf and Country Club.
The Australia-born Englishman came agonisingly close to a third Challenge Tour victory at the D+D Real Czech Challenge at the beginning of the month, missing out by two shots as Frenchman Thomas Linard stormed through the field with an eight under par final round to claim the title.
Although disappointed, Gaunt insisted afterwards that a third career Challenge Tour is on the cards, and that confidence remains high heading into his title defence at the new venue, located just outside Antwerp.
“It’s a different course this year so it’s going to be interesting to see that,” said the 35 year old. “It’s always good to go back to a tournament as the defending champion, especially the way I'm playing at the moment. I'm really looking forward to it.
“Just to get another win under the belt last year was a pretty special moment. You probably saw it in the celebration, the emotions just pour out when you have a win. It was pretty important for my year.
“I've only been to Belgium a couple of times and I love it. The beer is great! The support I had during the last round, and for everyone playing, was awesome. Hopefully we can get that again and I can play some good golf.
“I think I'm a bit happier in myself at the moment. I'm not stressing about things as much as in the past. I'm a bit older and I'm maturing a bit on the golf course. You’ve just got to take the bad with the good and when you hit an ordinary shot, you’ve got to accept it and move one and try and do your best with the next shot.
“I'm just trying to have fun again and enjoy the game that I love. Like I said in Czech Republic, I'm definitely going to win this year – I would put money on it that I will – but I don’t know which week. Hopefully it’ll be this week.”
Despite his win in Belgium last year, Gaunt failed to earn graduation to The European Tour, finishing 33rd in the final Challenge Tour Rankings, but he feels his game is much more consistent this season as he attempts to repeat his feat of 2010 by finishing in the top 15.
“I was struggling with my putting before my win last year and my short game and mentally I wasn't in a very good place either,” he said. “That week I changed to a belly-putter and I holed everything.
“I think I need to be more consistent this year. That win came out of the blue last year and I probably didn’t do enough after that either. This year I've seen little progressions week after week and there was no surprise in Czech Republic that I finished second.
“I thought I had it won but you can’t do much about Thomas shooting eight under. To play in the last group and shoot four under, I can’t do much more than that. That’s golf and winning is hard.”
Gaunt heads a strong field for the tenth event of the Challenge Tour season, which includes three-time European Tour winner Nick Dougherty, 2010 Trophée Hassan II champion Rhys Davies and former Ryder Cup star Oliver Wilson.
Three winners from the 2014 season will play - Linard (D+D Real Czech Challenge), Oliver Farr (Turkish Airlines Challenge), Antonio Hortal (Challenge de Catalunya) – while Hugo Joannes will be one of the home favourites, having finished runner-up at the Fred Olsen Challenge de España two weeks ago.