Ahead of the 2019 Andalucia - Costa del Sol Match Play 9 from June 20-23, we have taken a look at the stars of the first two editions of the innovative event.
After making it through the stroke play section of the event, Scotland’s Liam Johnston turned on the style as the format switched to match play.
The 25 year old started the second day of knockout games in scintillating form as he surged past José-Filipe Lima 3&2 in the quarter final. Up next for Johnston was Italian Jacopo Vecchi Fasso in the semi finals, where the pair visited the ninth hole five times during the play-off before the Scot came out on top.
The buzz from his semi final success was still evident when the final commenced as he won the first two holes against countryman Grant Forrest. However, Forrest’s amateur career involved the 2015 Walker Cup triumph and the 2013 Palmer Cup win, and that paid dividends as Johnston’s lead was cut to one.
The birdies continued to drop during the contest but the chat between the friends was at a minimum with a tournament victory at stake.
Forrest’s brilliant putt on the seventh hole brought the match level with two to play, but Johnston kept his cool to make par on the eighth while Forrest could only make bogey.
After six visits to the ninth hole, Johnston did not want to make it anymore than he needed to and closed out the match play final with a par to match Forrest and claim his debut Challenge Tour title.
Now a European Tour winning following success at the Honma Hong Kong Open presented by Amundi, Aaron Rai triumphed at the Andalucia - Costa del Sol Match Play 9 in 2017, his breakout year on the Challenge Tour.
Already a winner on Europe’s second tier after winning the Barclays Kenya Open, Rai secured his second triumph of the season in Spain.
The 22 year old started the second day of match play with a 2&1 victory over France’s Robin Sciot-Siegrist in the quarter final, before facing his fellow countryman Tom Murray in a finely-balanced semi-final – which Rai eventually claimed 2up.
Facing Rai in the final was Ireland’s Gavin Moynihan. The then 22 year old edged out Marcus Kinhult 1up in his quarter-final, then went on to knock out top seed Charlie Ford 3&2 in the semi-final.
Both players were on fine form in the final, with Rai striking first by taking the first two holes with back-to-back birdies.
Moynihan responded with gains of his own on the third and fourth holes, but after Rai holed a 25-foot putt to halve the fifth the momentum changed – Rai rallied to birdie the sixth and seventh to reach 2up with two to play.
With Moynihan narrowly missing a birdie putt on the eighth, Rai was left with a five-foot putt for his second victory in two months, which he duly holed with the calmness of a future European Tour winner.