New Challenge Tour Rankings leader Andrew 'Beef' Johnston has proved himself a lean, mean, money-making machine this season, and the Englishman could complete a remarkable rise to The European Tour with victory at this week's Azerbaijan Golf Challenge Open.
The 25 year old collected his second title of the year in some style in France last week and, with a €300,000 prize fund up for grabs in this week’s inaugural Azerbaijan Golf Challenge Open, another strong showing in Quba would put further daylight between him and his closest rivals.
Foremost in his mind, however, will be the opportunity of a third victory of the season in the Challenge Tour’s first venture to the eastern European nation, which would earn him automatic promotion to The Race to Dubai.
Johnston’s stylish win at the Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge, where he came from three shots back on the final day to prevail by four strokes courtesy of a closing round of 64, saw the affable Londoner become the first player to smash through the €100,000 barrier on the Challenge Tour this season.
With two victories and a brace of top ten finishes in his last four appearances there is no doubting Johnston is in the form of his life, and his current purple patch has even surprised the man himself.
Speaking after collecting his €32,000 winner’s cheque, Johnston said: “You never think at the start of the season that you are going to end up with a European Tour card this early in the season. I knew the work I had done over the winter was really good, and I’ve stuck to my task every week and am now getting the rewards. I’m on a great run, and I don’t want it to end.”
With €48,000 on offer to this week’s winner, the rewards are certainly rich in Azerbaijan, where Johnston will face one of the strongest fields of the season.
Two other players in the field join Johnston in the chase for that all-important third victory of the 2014 campaign, with German Moritz Lampert aiming to make a swift return to The European Tour, whilst South African Jake Roos also has a rookie season on the top tier in his sights.
Eight of the top ten players in the Rankings will be in action at The National Azerbaijan Golf Club, with second placed Jordi Garcia Pinto of Spain and Germany’s Florian Fritsch, currently in ninth, the only two players not teeing up.
Korean Byeong-hun An, currently ranked sixth, will hope to continue his solid recent form, having finished in a tie for second place behind Johnston in France.
That came after the former US Amateur Open champion – the youngest player to win the prestigious amateur event – earned a top 30 finish in The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
The National Azerbaijan Golf Club, which also serves as the headquarters for the recently-formed Azerbaijan Golf Federation, was the first and so far only 18-hole championship golf course to be built in Azerbaijan.
With challenging changes of elevation which offer breath-taking views of the Caucasus Mountains, the 7,011 yards, par 72 course should prove a fitting venue for the Challenge Tour’s first visit to the ‘Land of Fire’.