Friday, 23 November 2012
Welsh World Cup winners Bradley Dredge and Stephen Dodd   (EuropeanTour)
Welsh World Cup winners Bradley Dredge and Stephen Dodd (EuropeanTour)

Of all the facets that make the six gruelling days of the Qualifying School Final Stage so thoroughly absorbing, it is the hugely diverse 156-man field – ranging from seasoned veterans to youthful up-and-comers – that above all makes the marathon contest so compelling. Ahead of the first round on Friday, takes a look at some notable names battling it out for one of the 25 cards on offer for The 2013 European Tour International Schedule at PGA Catalunya Resort this week.

Ryder Cuppers

The year 2012 will forever be remembered for the historic Sunday comeback from José María Olazábal’s charges in The 39th Ryder Cup, and PGA Catalunya Resort is endowed with Ryder Cup lineage this week as three former European players take to the Stadium and Tour Courses in the Final Stage. At Valhalla in 2008, Oliver Wilson came back from four down to defeat Anthony Kim and Phil Mickelson 2&1 in the second day foursomes when playing with Henrik Stenson.  Sweden’s Jarmo Sandelin played in the infamous Brookline contest in 1999, while England’s Paul Broadhurst rates his appearance at The 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island as his greatest career achievement, having been unbeaten thanks to a fourball win with Ian Woosnam over Paul Azinger and Hale Irwin and a singles victory over Mark O’Meara.

World Cup winners

In 2005, Stephen Dodd and Bradley Dredge became the first Welshmen to win the World Cup since compatriots Ian Woosnam and David Llewellyn in 1987 when they captured the rain-curtailed event on Portugal’s Algarve coast. With thunderstorms forcing the cancellation of Sunday’s final round, Dodd and Dredge were awarded the trophy after finishing two strokes clear of England’s Luke Donald and David Howell at Oceânico Victoria.

US Amateur Pedigree

South Korea’s An Byeong-hun became the youngest winner of the US Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club in Oklahoma, where he triumphed 7&5 over Ben Martin in the 36-hole final aged 17. He played on the Challenge Tour this year, finishing 82nd in ranking with his best performance of the year coming at last month’s Allianz Open de Lyon, where he finished tied eighth. Byeong-hun is joined in northern Spain by his US Amateur successor, America’s Peter Uihlein, who, on his 21st birthday, won the 2010 edition in Washington. Uihlein finished 26th in the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2012 after a very consistent second half of the season.

Junior Ryder Cup team-mates

Playing in the group teeing off on the Tour Course at 0915 on Friday morning are two men who will be in familiar company, having competed together in The Junior Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in 2010. England’s Chris Lloyd and Germany’s Moritz Lampert halved their opening foursomes match in Scotland two years ago, before separately falling to fourball defeats in the afternoon session. Lloyd prevailed 2&1 in his singles encounter while Lampert, who still retains his amateur status, lost 4&2 as the Americans secured a 13½-10½  victory.

Czech history-maker

Only a member of the paid ranks since early October, Czech Republic’s 21 year old great hope Ondrej Lieser is this week looking to become the first from his country to gain a European Tour card. Lieser played in the Challenge Tour’s D+D Real Czech Challenge Open last month, finishing tied 33rd at his home club of Kunetická Hora, where he jointly holds the course record of 64. He will be looking to follow in the footsteps of compatriot Marek Novy, who became the first Czech player to earn a Challenge Tour card following a fifth place finish in the EPD Tour Rankings this year.

Unlucky 120

With the top 119 in this year’s Race to Dubai securing their playing privileges for the 2013 season last week either at the UBS Hong Kong Open or the SA Open Championship, it was South Africa’s Tjaart van der Walt who finished in the unlucky 120th position, just a minute €693 behind the incumbent of the last spot, England’s Richard Bland. Van der Valt’s best finish of the season was a second place at January’s Africa Open, where the Pretorian –  still on a high after securing a return to The European Tour at the Qualifying School the month previously – finished just two shots behind winner and countryman Louis Oosthuizen after a decade out of the top tier of European golf.

A Champion Field

This year’s is the strongest field in the history of the Qualifying School Final Stage, and features no fewer than 33 former European Tour Champions. England’s Paul Broadhurst is the most prolific winner in Girona this week, having returned victorious at six European Tour events between 1989 and 2006, when the now 47 year old won his second Portugal Open in succession. He is also the most experienced player in the field this week as a veteran of 588 European Tour appearances.

The Veteran

Former American President Calvin Coolidge once said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence,” and nowhere is this mentality more categorically exhibited than in Qualifying School veteran Sean Whiffin, who is this year competing in his 22nd Q School campaign. The Englishman has only missed one year since 1990 (in 2004), and in 2012 equals Spaniard Jesus Maria Arruti in the record books in terms of the most appearances in the qualification race. The Londoner’s finest hour came at The 2004 Open Championship at Carnoustie where, as a qualifier, he finished in 47th place.

Wish you were there?

For the second year running, the opening rounds of the Final Stage overlap with the conclusion of the season-ending extravaganza in Dubai, the DP World Tour Championship, where the top 60 in The Race to Dubai are contending for prestige and plentiful prize money at Jumeirah Golf Estates. In the first rendition of the event in 2009, England’s Ross McGowan seized the biggest pay-cheque of this career with a second place finish on the Earth Course after finishing six shots behind inaugural winner Lee Westwood. McGowan will be playing for rather less prize money in Girona this week, but the pressure is arguably even greater.

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