Once the dust had settled out at Pestana Golf Resort’s Vale da Pinta course, and a play-off had been required to determine the fifth and final spot, it was clear that the cream had risen to the top at the recent European Senior Tour Qualifying School.
In a change from previous years, only five Senior Tour cards were on offer out in Portugal, with English amateur Brad Smith tying for fifth before ultimately losing out to Ken Tarling on the first additional hole.
Here are the five players – all former European Tour or Senior Tour Members – who will be teeing it up on the Senior Tour for the 2016 season.
All five of us, if you had told us last night we’d be the top five, no-one would have cared where they had come – you’re opening up a very exciting year whether you’re fifth or first
England’s Gary Marks took top honours at Q-School, his two under par total in windy conditions that prevented low scoring enough to prevail by one shot.
The 52 year old is already familiar both with life on the Senior Tour and with the Q-School, having tied for second 12 months ago to earn his card for the 2015 season.
A winner on the Challenge Tour before joining the Senior ranks, Marks had two top ten finishes last year and will be buoyed by this victory ahead of the start of the new season.
Career highlight: Taking a maiden professional victory in the 1996 Alianca UAP Challenger
I’m ecstatic right now – there’s a lot of pressure on all of us, so to be able to come out and get your card after that feels very good. It’s a real feather in anyone’s cap
American Barry Conser, one of only two players to break par in the final round in the Algarve, is no stranger to Q-School, having taken the sixth card in 2014 and tying for 11th last year to earn conditional playing rights.
This year, the 54 year old will be looking to improve upon a previous best finish on the Senior Tour of a tie for 12th at the French Riviera Masters in 2014.
Career highlight: Shooting a 59 on his way to winning the Wyoming State Open in 1994
I had one thought in my head and that was Christy O’Connor Jnr – he was one of the great figures of Irish golf and this was for him
Irishman Brendan McGovern started his Q-School Final Stage campaign strongly with a five under par first round of 67 and ultimately finished just two shots behind the winner Marks.
The 50 year old former European Tour player was inspired by the memory of the late Christy O’Connor Jnr, whom he met last September and received encouragement from ahead of his successful attempt to earn a Senior Tour card.
Career highlight: Winning his third and final Irish Order of Merit in 2002
Magnus P Atlevi
I felt pretty confident in my game coming here – I’ve been playing the course in my head, mentally practising for this week, since December
Sweden’s Magnus P Atlevi tied for third with McGovern having led the field after rounds two and three and will now play his first full season on the Senior Tour having turned 50 last year.
Something of a Q-School specialist, still holding the record as the youngest player to win a European Tour card when, aged 17, he successfully came through Q-School in 1982, for Atlevi this year held an element of redemption.
One year ago he had a Senior Tour card in his grasp before he four-putted the final green for a double bogey, missing out by one shot – no such mistakes 12 months later though.
Career highlight: Losing to the great Seve Ballesteros in a play-off at the Open Renault de Baleares in 1990
I’m thrilled, this really means a lot – now I have a home for the year
Last year’s Q-School champion, Canadian Tarling was once again at the centre of the drama on the final day in Portugal as he took the final card after winning a play-off.
The 57 year old held his nerve to par the first additional hole while opponent Brad Smith could only manage a double bogey, giving Tarling his second full season on the Senior Tour.Career highlight: Winning five times in his debut season on the Australian Legends Tour to be named both Rookie of the Year and Order of Merit Champion in 2011