With the long awaited 2014 Challenge Tour season set to get under way this week at the Barclays Kenya Open, europeantour.com took a look at a few players to keep a watchful eye on this year as the quest for a top 15 spot on the Rankings begins at Karen Country Club from Thursday.
Known for his brightly coloured plus fours, the flamboyant ‘Swedish Toro’, as he is affectionately referred to on Twitter, missed out on retaining his European Tour card for 2014 after a 138th place finish on The Race to Dubai. However, if he gets off to a strong start then he could figure more prominently on the Challenge Tour Rankings this year, having first graduated from European golf’s second tier back in 2010. That year he did everything but win, recording six top ten finishes, four of which were on the podium, en route to claiming the 12th card. The 29 year old will be keen to make a swift return to the top tier and he will he hoping to hit the ground running this week in Nairobi.
Burst onto The European Tour in 2010 by picking up a maiden win at the Trophée Hassan II in his rookie season which, alongside three runners-up finishes and a solitary third place, helped the Welshman finish 18th on The Race to Dubai. Having played a full season on the Challenge Tour last year, he has once again started to show glimpses of the form which took him to such heights and which suggest he could shine in 2014. Three top five finishes, capped off by a tie for fourth in the season-ending Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club, were encouraging signs to finish last year. He also opened up with a seven under par 64 in the opening round of the Africa Open last month, which could be a further sign of things to come.
Embarking on his third full season on the Challenge Tour, the Orlando-based Korean could well be primed for his best year yet in 2014, having progressed in the past couple of campaigns from 82nd to 25th on the Rankings. That is a solid improvement, and if he continues along that trajectory then he could well feature at the sharp end of the season. The 22 year old’s best finish last season came courtesy of a runner-up place at the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts. An led going into the final round before being overhauled by Brooks Koepka, and he no would doubt have learned enough about himself that he will be confident of turning such form into a victory this year. Put that alongside his unquestionable pedigree, which saw him become the youngest ever winner of the US Amateur Championship in 2009 at the tender age of 17, and he could well be the real deal this season.
The Frenchman missed out on a European Tour card by a shot at the Qualifying School Final Stage last November, having led after round one at PGA Catalunya Resort just outside Girona. Espana is a talent that shone brightest on the Alps Tour in 2013, one of four Satellite circuits that alongside the Pro Golf Tour, Euro Pro Tour and Nordic Golf League see their top five each year graduate to the Challenge Tour. Last year he played eight times, making six cuts, and posting a couple of top tens along the way en route to an 89th place finish on the Challenge Tour Rankings. Given a full season and a consistent run of events, he could be another one earning a spot at European golf’s top table.
Last, but by no means least, is 2012 Rankings winner Espen Kofstad who struggled a little for his best form during a first sojourn on The European Tour, not helped by injury problems. One of Norway’s finest is a man of some talent though, having romped to two titles a couple of seasons ago, including a closing victory at the Grand Final which went a long way in securing top spot in the Rankings. Glimpses of that form also crept into his game during the past 12 months, none more impressive than that which saw him open with a 65 to lead the ISPS HANDA Wales Open alongside Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley. The rest of the week didn’t quite pan out for the man from Oslo, but it shows he has it in him at the top level, and as such he is a strong contender for promotion this time around.
And the others…
If these five aren’t enough, then this week’s defending champion Jordi Garcia Pinto is another man worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses, as is former Ryder Cup star Oliver Wilson.
Daniel Im lost out on his place inside the top 15 on the Rankings during a topsy turvy Grand Final last year, eventually finishing 17th on the list. He is clearly a capable player, and one to watch, as is Robin Kind. The Dutchman is another of our Satellite tour graduates, having come off the Pro Golf Tour, and after a top ten in his only outing last year, is clearly a talented prospect.