CALCULATORS at the ready. It’s crunch time for the Scottish contingent as they chase a stack of different targets in the final two weeks of the European Tour season.
Just to confuse things, there are two events on the go this week that are going to determine whether members of golf’s Tartan Army are going to be smiling or not, first of all come Sunday night.
First up, based purely on the time zone, is the UBS Hong Kong Open, a co-sanctioned event with the Asian Tour that carries a $2 million prize fund and has Rory McIlroy, the world No 1 and defending champion, heading its line-up at Fanling.
Joining him in the Far East are six Scots, namely Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie, Stephen Gallacher, Scott Jamieson, Ross Bain and Andrew McGregor, the latter two having earned their places through the Asian Tour. Even though he is lying 134th in the Race to Dubai, Montgomerie doesn’t need to worry about getting into the top 115 to avoid a trip to the dreaded Qualifying School final in Spain at the end of the month.
For a variety of reasons, notably his eight European Tour Order of Merit titles, that will never have to be on the agenda for him. It will be hurting the former Ryder Cup captain, however, that he will again miss out again on the end-of-season party – next week’s Dubai World Championship – as it is no longer possible for him to make the 60-strong field for that.
As things stand right now, it is going to involve six Scots – Lawrie (tenth), Richie Ramsay (25th), Gallacher (36th), Marc Warren (52nd), David Drysdale (55th) and Jamieson (56th).
With two victories under his belt, a winning Ryder Cup appearance and a world ranking of 27th, you might think that Lawrie has little motivation so late in the season. You would be wrong, though.
The Aberdonian is chasing his best finish on the European Tour, which was sixth in 1999, the same year, of course, as his Open Championship triumph at Carnoustie. Gallacher’s target in Hong Kong – Dubai next week as well – is to post the high finish he needs to ensure a top-30 spot on the money list as that would secure him a spot in next year’s battle for the Claret Jug at Muirfield.
Compared to the event in the Far East, the South African Open, a co-sanctioned affair with the Sunshine Tour that has Martin Kaymer, Europe’s Ryder Cup hero, as its star attraction, is set to be more nerve-jangling for the Scottish contingent.
Drysdale and Warren have headed to the Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate in Ekurhuleni to try and cement their spots in Dubai next week and both should get the chance to compete for that bonus pot on offer then.
For the likes of Peter Whiteford and Craig Lee, however, the prospect of sharing some of that bounty has fizzled out for this season. It’s about survival for them this week. Whiteford is lying 113th on the money-list, with Lee two spots below him. To be safe without having to put themselves in a sweat as this name or that name comes off the rankings, they both need to be in the top 115 on Sunday night. Given his misfortune earlier in the season, when the affable Fifer was disqualified in India when still in contention there, it would be harsh if Whiteford found himself heading for the Qualifying School.
The same goes for Stirling man Lee, who has given a decent account of himself this season despite the frustrating stop-start schedule which Challenge Tour graduates like him are forced to put up with after earning their places at the top table.
George Murray, Steven O’Hara, Alastair Forsyth and Lloyd Saltman are also in South Africa and, for all of them, it is a last throw of the dice. Just over a year after finishing third in the Dunhill Links and enjoying a bumper pay-day there, Anstruther man Murray is languishing 154th following a disappointing season. He is almost certainly going to be in Girona for that six-round card battle and so, too, probably is Forsyth unless he can come up with something special to catapult him up from 133rd.
O’Hara (182nd) and Saltman (191st) have already shut off their Qualifying School route after missing out at the second stage in Spain last weekend.
For them, a win this week would, of course, brighten the picture considerably but, failing that, it’s about trying to finish as high as they possibly can on the money-list in the hope of securing the odd main Tour appearance next season.
Ramsay is the notable absentee from both the aforementioned events. He is still in with a chance of securing a Masters spot next April, needing to climb from 55th in the world rankings into the top 50, the first cut-off for that exemption being at the end of the year. But, after seeing his game go off the boil a bit in the three events he has played since losing out in a play-off at last month’s Indian Open, the Aberdonian has obviously decided to take the week off in a bid to recharge his batteries for one big final push in Dubai.
It’s a case of one big last push all round, in fact.