Players assembled for this week’s Madeira Islands Open will have Seve Ballesteros firmly in their thoughts as they walk a course designed by the late golfing genius.
A week after his funeral, Ballesteros’ beautiful creation of Porto Santo Golfe, carved into dramatic basalt cliffs on the tiny island of Port Santo, will provide a stern test for the 156 players gathered on the island, challenging their skills and imagination.
Porto Santo first hosted the €700,000 event in 2009, since when it has proved a happy hunting ground for Challenge Tour graduates.
Two years ago, Tano Goya held off a rampaging Callum Macaulay to capture his maiden European Tour title by one stroke, having graduated from the Challenge Tour in 2008 in third place in the Rankings.
Last year, the Argentine was followed into the winners’ enclosure by the 18th graduate James Morrison of England, who beat his compatriot Oliver Fisher into second place.
Morrison returns to Porto Santo Golfe bidding to become the first player in the event’s 19-year history to successfully defend the Madeira Islands Open BPI – Portugal title.
The 26 year old, who played in the same England Youth cricket team as the current one day international captain Alastair Cook, is one of five former champions in the field, alongside Scotland’s Alastair Forsyth (2008), Spain’s Santiago Luna (1995), Swede Jarmo Sandelin (1996) and Argentina’s Daniel Vancsik (2007).
Of the home contingent, José-Filipe Lima and Ricardo Santos will both be looking to climb the Challenge Tour Rankings from their respective positions of 31st and 21st.
Despite being capped to €500,000 for the purposes of the Rankings only, the €700,000 prize fund still potentially represents a veritable goldmine for Challenge Tour Members – a point not lost on Lima who, like Santos, played a practice round at Porto Santo Golfe two weeks ago.
Lima jointly led after the first round last year, only to drop down the leaderboard over the weekend, but a tie for 12th place finish in 2009 gives the 29 year old hope of becoming the first home winner of the event.
He said: “I had a few problems controlling my driver last year, and with the wind at Porto Santo, it’s not the best place to lose control. But I like the course and played very well there two years ago, so with a little more luck this time, hopefully I can go even closer.
“This year more than ever Madeira is a very important event for me, not just because I’m obviously Portuguese but also because the prize money counts towards the Challenge Tour Rankings. I had a sponsor’s day at Porto Santo two weeks ago and played a practice round afterwards, and the course was looking in great condition.
“It’s a challenging course but also a beautiful one, with many great holes which are typical of Seve – especially the 13th. I never played with him but I spoke with him many times during the Trophée Lancôme at St-Nom-la-Bretèche, and the main thing he said which always stuck with me is that if you work hard, you’ll get your rewards.
“I’ve worked really hard on some swing changes with my coach over the past year or so, and slowly I’m now starting to get my rewards. My putting still isn’t as good as I would like, but once that improves I’m very confident of getting back onto the main Tour.”