It’s crunch time at this week’s €2 million Portugal Masters for Europe’s bubble boys.
Although there are still five tournaments left on this year’s European Tour schedule, this week and next week’s co-sanctioned ISPS HANDA Perth International mark the end of the season for those at the bottom of the European food chain. Vilamoura Golf Club on Portugal’s Algarve is the penultimate stop before the lucrative $30 million Final Series for Europe’s elite, a copycat version of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup.
Nicolas Colsaerts, Francesco Molinari, Martin Kaymer and Paul Lawrie, members of last year’s victorious Ryder Cup team, headline the field. All four are capable of winning the title, but for others winning will come second to the No. 110.
That’s the final position on the European money list that guarantees a card for next season. Anyone not inside that mark has to endure a trip to the dreaded European Tour Qualifying School, and maybe a season on the European Challenge Tour.
American Brooks Koepka currently holds the 110th position. The former Florida State player won three times on this year’s European Challenge Tour to gain a full European Tour Card for this year and next year, so he doesn’t have to worry if he slips below 110th.
Chasing Koepka are a number of high-profile European Tour players trying to retain playing rights for next year.
Peter Lawrie, winner of the 2008 Spanish Open and an 11-year European Tour veteran, occupies the 111th spot. The Irishman has earned €217,107 this season, just €655 behind Koepka. The Dubliner needs to make the cut, finish higher than Koepka and hope no one behind him throws an unwanted wrench into the proceedings.
England’s Oliver Fisher is also looking for a big week in Portugal. He lies 120th on the Order of Merit with €191,015 in prize money. His exemption for winning the 2011 Czech Open expires this season, so he needs to earn a good check.
Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley sits eight places behind Fisher. The four-time European Tour winner has earned just €169,496 fin 15 events this year. McGinley shouldn’t have to worries about invites next season though. He should do OK on that front courtesy of his Ryder Cup role, but pride will make him strive to finish inside the 110 mark.
Tour winners Richard Finch (134th), James Morrison (137), Soren Hansen (143) and Niclas Fasth (151) are among the notables needing good performances in Portugal to make sure they are still on the main tour next year.
The winner’s share this week is €330,330, with second place taking €222,220 and third offering €125,200, but many will settle for less as long is it guarantees a return to next year’s European Tour.