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The battle on the bubble - How it unfolded

The battle on the bubble - How it unfolded

The Portugal Masters produced an emotional roller coaster at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course as players battled to keep their place on the European Tour in Vilamoura.

Steven Brown

On Thursday morning, the top 117 in the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex were on course to keep their playing privileges but by Sunday afternoon that number had dropped to 115.

When the sun set on Sunday on the Algarve, four men had fought their way to the right side of the line, while five who started the week safe were heading to the Qualifying School.

Here is how it all panned out over a dramatic four days in Portugal.

The top 110 players on the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex were due to keep their cards but some of those players were classed as in addition to that top 110, due to their status.

Jon Rahm and Patrick Reed were in addition as they are in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking but have played less than six events on the 2019 Race to Dubai outside of the Major and World Golf Championships, while Tony Finau, Billy Horschel, Aaron Wise and Min Woo Lee were affiliate members.

When those players were removed from the top 110, the magic number became 116 but, with affiliate member Abraham Ancer sat at 114th, it increased to 117.

With Ancer not in the field this week, the number was always likely to drop to 116 but Lee - ranked 110th - was playing in Portugal to keep his fate in his own hands.

If Lee finished in the top 115 after the weekend, the top 116 would keep their cards but there would be no reprieve for the Australian should he finish 116th himself.

Andres Romero was ranked 116th but he was not in the field and was always likely to fall, while Clément Sordet and Lee Slattery - ranked 113th and 115th respectively - faced an anxious weekend after missing the cut.

Paul Dunne (118th) also missed the cut to ensure a trip the Qualifying School while at the other end of the spectrum Oliver Fisher (112th), Jack Singh Brar (117th), Jeugnhun Wang (119th), Hugo Leon (120th) and Justin Walters (121st) were all well placed after Friday with a fighting chance to keep their cards.

Lee kept his chances alive with a birdie putt on the last to make the weekend right on the number, while 111th ranked Niklas Lemke needed to make a clutch seven footer on his 36th hole to make the weekend.

As bubble boys continued to challenge on Saturday, Fisher virtually assured his place on Tour while the chances of Sordet, Ancer, Slattery and Romero looked more and more remote - but a dark horse was also stalking.

Steven Brown had started the weekend ranked 150th with no top tens all season but went 69-67 over the first two days and a 65 on moving day made his faint hopes burn ever brighter.

Come Sunday and Lemke was staring down the barrel at three over through 13 holes but he birdied four of his last five holes to fly back up the leaderboard and the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex.

Lee then signed for a round of 73 that edged him above Lemke in the season long standings and the duo's fate rested in the hands of Leon and Brown.

Leon had turned in 34 before birdies on the 14th and 15th moved him up to 115th and his celebrations after a clutch par on the last made it clear he felt he had a chance - while Lee and Lemke's were gone.

But a Brown birdie on the 11th left Leon on the outside looking in and the the Englishman eagled the next en route to not only keeping his card but claiming a remarkable victory.

When the dust settled, Brown, Walters, Singh Brar and Wang had all played their way into the top 115, with Lee, Lemke, Sordet, Ancer and Slattery all slipping out in the process.

Steven Brown

"You never know with this game. It’s crazy to think how well I’ve played this month and how bad the first two thirds of the year were. I never thought this would happen - I was counting down to Tour School and getting ready for that. I like the fact I had to go for it and wasn’t trying for a good result. I had to seize the chance to win the tournament. That’s the difference, before I’ve thought ‘I’m up there and had a good week, that’s great’ this week it was do or bust. I can’t believe it."

Justin Walters

"I left it all out there. If you’d have given that to me at the beginning of the week I’d have run away with it, I’ll hold my head up high. I think yesterday I went through the hardest part. I felt vulnerable for the first time all week. Aside from a few putting problems, I did alright. I kept telling myself to keep doing the same stuff. I putted really well today."

Jeunghun Wang

"My putting was really bad today but I kept trying every hole - that helped and to finally get to the last hole, it feels good. I’m looking forward - I think I’m playing good right now, I’m hitting it good. So I’m really excited to play next week."

Jack Singh Brar

"I’m over the moon. I got off to a great start today - three under through nine - I just tried to keep pushing. It’s hard when you know how much is on the line, I’m just so glad to have done it. You wake up with thoughts racing round, even today. I knew I had to shoot a good number because there were so many people chasing me down. Trying to control my emotions, even coming down 18 I could barely hold the club. I struggled to get comfortable all year - hence my results. Now I feel like I can push on now."

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