(L-R) Tournament Director Mike Stewart, Simon Wakefield of England and Angel Gallardo, Vice-Chairman of the PGA European Tour Board of Directors (Getty Images)
This week’s Qualifying School Final Stage has again attracted an intriguing mixture of seasoned professionals and emerging talents, all of whom will be bidding to secure their places on The 2012 European Tour International Schedule.
With 156 players battling it out for just 30 golden tickets, the Final Stage traditionally serves up drama and despair in equal measure.
Those pupils hoping to graduate from the school face a stern examination of both their credentials and stamina, with six rounds to navigate over the stunning Stadium and Tour courses at PGA Catalunya Resort, which form part of the European Tour Properties portfolio and were co-designed by European Tour champions Neil Coles of England and Spain’s Angel Gallardo.
Last year Simon Wakefield finished the gruelling 108-hole marathon in first place, but after narrowly failing to keep the European Tour card he had worked so hard to earn, the Englishman now returns to Girona, in northern Spain, hoping to repeat the feat.
Wakefield will be joined at PGA Catalunya Resort by his compatriot Nick Dougherty, who will be hoping to rediscover the form which saw him capture three European Tour titles, most recently at the 2009 BMW International Open.
Other European Tour champions in attendance include England’s Paul Broadhurst, the 1999 Final Stage winner Alastair Forsyth of Scotland, American Anthony Kang and Dutchman Maarten Lafeber, who between them have laid claim to ten Tour titles.
Of those from further afield, the global nature of the Qualifying School’s appeal is embodied by rising Bangladeshi star Siddikur, an Asian Tour winner who finished in a tie for eighth place at this year’s Maybank Malaysian Open on The European Tour.
Two players who will be determined to reverse their recent fortunes are France’s Anthony Snobeck and Chile’s Mark Tullo.
Tullo was left cursing his luck after finishing 119th in The Race to Dubai and missing out on retaining his European Tour playing privileges by a mere €1,277, whilst just €801 separated Snobeck from a place on The European Tour after the Frenchman finished in the agonising position of 21st place in the final Challenge Tour Rankings.
Snobeck will seek inspiration from Spaniard Carlos del Moral, who finished 21st in the Challenge Tour Rankings last year, but subsequently earned his European Tour card at the Final Stage and has since retained his playing privileges by finishing 112th in The Race to Dubai.
Del Moral is one of six graduates from the 2010 Qualifying School who have kept their cards, with the South African duo of George Coetzee and Jaco van Zyl faring the best by finishing 27th and 51st respectively in The Race to Dubai to qualify for the season-ending Dubai World Championship.
The gold rush starts this Saturday, and after four rounds – two each at the Stadium and Tour courses – the field will be cut to the top 70 and ties, who will play a further two rounds over the Stadium course to determine the final 30 and ties.
The Stadium course, which opened in 1999 and hosted the Open de España in both 2000 and 2009, has been listed in the ‘Top 100 Courses in the World’ by Golf World magazine for the past two years.