Joost Luiten faces a serious challenge as he bids to win his sixth European Tour event over the final 36 holes of the $2.4 million Andalucia Valderrama Masters, not least from tournament host Sergio Garcia.
An even bigger battle looms over the next two days: the battle for European Tour survival.
Several players, including a few notables, are fighting for their careers.
Luiten takes a one-shot lead over Garcia, England’s Robert Rock and former Augusta State player Scott Jamieson of Scotland. The Dutchman is on six under par after a second-round 70 to go with his opening 66. Garcia could only manage a level par 71 after sharing the first-round lead with Luiten.
Expect Luiten and Garcia to battle it out to the end. Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia, Ryder Cup hero Jamie Donaldson, England’s Ben Evans, ex-Oregon State player Paul Peterson, 2003 NCAA Champion Alejandro Canizares and Oliver Wilson, also a former Augusta State alumni, are fighting to earn playing rights for next year.
Only the top 100 on the Race to Dubai qualify to play a full season on the 2018 European Tour. Australia’s Brett Rumford sits in 100th spot with 375,033 points. Donaldson and co are all outside that mark. They need high finishes at Valderrama to climb inside the top 100. Wilson must win to secure his playing privileges for next year.
It’s the last chance saloon for most of these players, considering Valderrama hosts the last event of the season for the tour’s minnows. Only the WGC–HSBC Champions and final three Rolex Series events remain on the 2017 schedule, and they’re for Europe’s marquee players.
Donaldson has gone from gaining Europe’s winning point at Celtic Manor in the 2014 Ryder Cup to sitting on the outside looking in. He’s 118th on the Race to Dubai with 292,046 points. Donaldson needs to earn over 83,574 points to get inside the top 100. Fifth place and 84,800 points will do just that. The Welshman is lying eighth at Valderrama.
Gouveia and Wilson share sixth place, one shot behind Evans. At least Evans and Gouveia have a chance to earn enough over the next 36 holes to leapfrog Rumford. Gouveia is 114th with 310,933 points while Evans is 138th with 218,218 points. Sixth place prize of 70,000 points will do for the strong Portuguese player, while Evans needs to share second to earn 173,710 points.
Wilson needs a win. He lost his card last year and has only played six times, earning just 8,470 points for 287th on the Race to Dubai. The 333,330 points for first place won’t take him into the top 100, but victory comes with a two-year European Tour exemption.
Wilson’s slide down the European pecking order has been more dramatic than Donaldson’s. He appeared in the 2008 Ryder Cup, lost his card, regained it by winning the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and then lost it again last year.
Peterson is tied for eighth at Valderrama alongside Donaldson. The Oregon State alumni is 121st on the Race to Dubai with 289,319. Fourth place of 100,000 will do nicely for him.
Canizares is 132nd on the European pecking order with 236,816 points. The ex-Arizona State player needs to improve to a share of second and 173,710 points from his current position of T16.
There’s much to play for over the final 36 holes in Southern Spain.