For Euro Tour hopefuls, it all comes down to Italy

Nick Dougherty

Nick Dougherty

It’s crunch time for Europe’s wannabes. Time to get a foothold of the gravy train that could lead to riches beyond their dreams.

Europe’s stars may be teeing it up in this week’s $7 million BMW Masters in China, but the potential riches on offer in the European Challenge Tour’s final event of the year are probably worth far more for Europe’s hopefuls.

This week’s Apulia San Domenico Grand Final in Savelletri, Italy, carries a prize fund of only €330,000 (about $427,340), the second-richest Challenge Tour event, behind the Kazakhstan Open, but it can open doors to glorious futures.

Only the top 45 on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit tee it up in the Grand Final at the San Domenico links course on the Adriatic Sea coast of the Italian bootheel. Although only the top 21 players on the money list at the conclusion of the tournament receive cards for the 2013 European Tour, everyone in the field can get one of those cards.

Normally there are only 20 spots, but Sweden’s Magnus A. Carlsson already has cemented his place on next year’s tour. He is 94th on the European Tour’s Order of Merit and fourth on the Challenge Tour money list.

Countryman Kristoffer Broberg also has earned a card for next season. He occupies the top spot in the rankings, with €116,080 ($150,280) in earnings. He has been the story of this year’s Challenge Tour. He came off the Nordic League and won four times in six starts. His third victory, the Rolex Trophy, earned him an automatic promotion to Europe’s top flight. However, he aims to finish the year atop the Challenge Tour rankings.

Argentina’s Daniel Vancsik stands 21st. However, he is only €15 ($19) ahead of Scotland’s Raymond Russell, winner of the 1996 Cannes Open on the main tour.

First place brings a prize fund of €56,650 ($73,334), which means any player in the field can get a card for next year’s main tour. England’s James Busby was the last man into the field. He currently occupies 45th place on the money list with €37,925 ($49,095). A win probably would put Busby inside the top 10. Even the second-place check of €37,620 ($48,697) would give Busby a card for next year’s European Tour.

Don’t think it can’t happen. Last year, England’s Andrew Johnston finished third to leap from 27th on the money list to 15th and earn a European Tour card.

There are some pretty strong horses already in the top 20, aside from the two Swedes. Three-time Challenge Tour winner Andreas Harto of Denmark is second. England’s Gary Lockerbie, a member of the 2005 GB&I Walker Cup team, lies third. Strong young Scottish player Scott Henry is ninth. Former University of Tennessee player Chris Paisley, a member of the 2009 GB&I Walker Cup team, is 12th.

There are a few good thoroughbreds outside the top 20, too. Former Oklahoma State Player Peter Uihlein, the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion, lies 26th. Sweden’s Bjorn Akesson, runner-up in the 2006 British Boys Championship, is 33rd. Three-time European Tour winner Nick Dougherty is 39th. Many will be rooting for the affable Englishman to get back on the main tour.

Forget about the main event in China. Those boys are just playing for Christmas-present money. Italy is where the real grinding will take place this week.

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