It’s crunch time for the European Tour’s bubble boys.
This week’s $1.67 million Portugal Masters is the last-chance saloon for players hoping to keep their playing rights for 2020.
Although there are still four events left on the 2019 European schedule, most of the players in Portugal are too far down the food chain to gain entry to these lucrative tournaments. It’s Portugal or bust for the minnows.
The number 117 is crucial for the 2020 wannabees. That’s the cut-off point on the Race to Dubai for players keeping or losing their cards. (It’s normally 110, but seven players in the top 117 are classed as affiliate members.)
Anyone at 117 or better gets full-time employment next season. Those who don’t get inside that number face either a return to the Qualifying School, a season on the European Challenge Tour, or part-time work next season. Or perhaps all three.
The fine line between success and failure is evident. England’s Jack Singh Brar, who played in the 2017 Walker Cup, occupies 117th spot with 415 points. Paul Dunne of Ireland sits in 118th with 414.3 points.
Dunne needs a good week to jump inside the top 117. His chances don’t look good: he’s missed his last five cuts, and holds a stroke average from those events of 73.9. It’s a far cry from the closing 61 he returned to win the 2017 British Masters. He took that title from Rory McIlroy. The 2015 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup player could use some of that inspiration this week over the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura in Portugal’s Algarve region.
Thankfully, it’s a course where players can go low. Englishman Oliver Fisher, another Walker Cupper (2005), proved that last year by returning a second-round, 12-under 59 to become the first player to break 60 on European Tour history.
Dunne isn’t the only notable name currently on the outside looking in. Former NC State player Justin Walters is 121st. Seven-time European Tour winner Gonzalo Fdez-Castaño lies 125th.
UAB alum Gavin Moynihan sits 140th on the Race to Dubai. He was 162nd a week ago but a fifth-place finish in last week’s French Open helped his survival chances. It also earned him a spot in Portugal. The two-time Walker Cup player (2013 and 2015) can pen the perfect fairy tale story with a strong finish to avoid his fourth attendance at the Q School in the last five years.
Singh Brar won’t be the only one dreaming of low scores in Vilamoura. He might be nearest the cliff edge, but he’s got others around him dangerously close to falling into the abyss too.
Fisher could use some of last year’s 59 form. He’s ranked 112th. Veteran Lee Slattery, a two-time European Tour winner, is 115th. Like Singh Brar, their destiny lies in their own hands.
Along with the odd fairy tale story, there will be heartaches in the last chance saloon. There always is. Watching who’s going to succeed and who’ll fail is going to make for fabulous, if slightly masochistic, viewing.