A place on the 2012 European Senior Tour will be the ultimate aim this week when 161 players begin their Senior Tour Qualifying School campaign on Portugal’s Algarve.
Three of Pestana Resort’s courses, Vila Sol, Gramacho and Silves, will host the 36 hole Qualifying School Stage One where the hopefuls will compete for a total of 59 places at Final Stage, which will be held at another Pestana course, Vale da Pinta, from January 30 to February 2.
Competition for those spots promises to be as strong as ever, with Stage One entries comparable to the last staging of the Qualifying School, in November 2010, when a record 164 players teed it up.
On that occasion American Tim Thelen came through First Stage at Gramacho and went on to win Final Stage to seal a place on the 2011 Senior Tour. He carried forward that form, ending the year in 24th position on the Order of Merit after finishing third on his debut in the Berenberg Bank Masters and then joint runner up behind Peter Fowler in the Van Lanschot Senior Masters.
The 161 players at Stage One, which starts on Thursday, will be hoping to follow in Thelen’s footsteps, with their first target a place in the field for the 72 hole Final Stage alongside the 13 exempt players.
Among the 53 hopefuls at Vila Sol will be Northern Irishman Jimmy Heggarty, the winner of the 2008 Qualifying School, while the field of 53 at Gramacho includes Victor Garcia, father of Ryder Cup star Sergio.
Former US PGA Tour winner Mike Donald, who lost in a play-off to Hale Irwin at the 1990 US Open, is among the 55 players battling it out at Silves.
It is the 19th edition of the Senior Tour Qualifying School and the 11th consecutive staging at Pestana Resort. This year is the first time the event has been played in January and the competitors will be hoping to seal a place on the Senior Tour alongside some of the game’s most iconic names, including Major Champions Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam.
The top six players at Final Stage will earn full Senior Tour cards for the 2012 season and those finishing seventh to 14th will secure alternate playing rights.