Robert Coles is a man in a hurry to regain his exempt status on The European Tour. Just six weeks after claiming his first victory of the year, the Englishman tees off in the SAINT-OMER OPEN presented by Neuflize OBC hoping to become the second quickest player in history to win three times on the Challenge Tour and secure that precious Tour card for 2010.
The 36 year old, who has spent his 15-year professional career fluctuating between The European and Challenge Tours, won in Morocco in the first week in May then added last week’s Challenge of Ireland presented by Moyvalley title to his collection.
A third victory this week, in the tenth anniversary edition of the €600,000 tournament, would ensure Coles of a place back on the main Tour, where he recorded his best finish of third in the 2006 Omega European Masters.
New Zealand’s Michael Campbell won three times from five starts on the Challenge Tour in 1994. Coles, who can emulate that achievement in seven starts, admits he is relishing the task ahead, and the opportunity to gain that all-important one year exemption.
He said: “I’ve been scoring well all season – I can’t put my finger on why. I’ve got a lot more consistent and I’m mentally tougher now than I was.
“I worked hard on my game over the winter, particularly on my short game, and it seems to have paid off. There’s no magic answer – it’s just a case of practising, and hoping it pays off. If I can keep this run going, I’ll be a very happy man.”
The unique dual-ranking event will feature 156 players from 31 different countries, with approximately half the field made up of European Tour Members and the other half drawn from the Challenge Tour, including all seven of the men who have won Challenge Tour events this season: Gary Boyd, Christoph Günther, Lee S James, Edoardo Molinari, Alan Wagner and Coles.
Also in the field, and spearheading the home challenge, are two-time Open de France ALSTOM winner Jean-François Remesy and his fellow Frenchman, Jean Van de Velde, who came so close to winning The Open Championship at Carnoustie a decade ago.
The duo’s fellow Frenchman Sébastien Delagrange is one of six former champions competing, along with 2007 winner Carl Suneson of Spain, 2006 champion Cesar Monasterio of Argentina, 2005 winner Joakim Bäckström of Sweden, 2004 champion José-Filipe Lima of Portugal and 2002 winner Nicolas Vanhootegem of Belgium.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, England’s Peter Baker and Wales’ Phillip Price will bring Ryder Cup experience with them to France, having represented Europe in 1993 and 2002 respectively.
One of Baker’s team-mates at The Belfry 16 years ago, Joakim Haeggman of Sweden, will be hoping to continue his renaissance, having regained his European Tour card through the Qualifying School – Final Stage last year.
Haeggman’s fellow Swede Christian Nilsson will bid to go one better this year, having lost out by just one stroke to David Dixon 12 months ago.