Raymond Russell aims to put the seal on a stellar year

FOUR of the eight Scots in the field for the final stage of the European Tour Qualifying School - the six-round test starts in Girona on Saturday - are former winners on the circuit.

For Andrew Coltart, Alastair Forsyth and Marc Warren, it is their chance to bounce straight back on to the top tier in European golf after all three finished outside the all-important top 115 on this season's money-list. For Raymond Russell, the other member of that quartet with at least one European Tour title to their name, it is an opportunity to write the final chapter in one of the success stories in Scottish golf in 2010.

Effectively, he started the year playing third-tier golf, having dropped down the divisions after requiring surgery on a niggling shoulder injury that stopped his career in its tracks during the 2006 KLM Open - his last appearance in a European Tour event. Feeling he was gradually working his way back, Russell had set himself a target of getting back on the main circuit by 2012, but he's achieved that a year ahead of schedule thanks to finishing 19th on the Challenge Tour money-list.

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A second-place finish in Wales, backed up by two more top 10s in Switzerland and France, helped towards that, while the 38-year-old also tasted success on two occasions during the year.

The first came in the Emporda Open, an Alps Tour event in Spain, and, more recently, he triumphed in the PGA of Europe's Beko Classic in Turkey, where he shot rounds of 69, 61 and 65 to beat a field that included double major winner John Daly.

Now Russell, the 1996 Cannes Open champion, has headed to Spain in a bid to try and improve his European Tour ranking next season, knowing every additional event he can add to the schedule could help him extend his return to the circuit.

In topping the Allianz Tour Order of Merit, he earned a spot in the French Open, which takes place the week before the Barclays Scottish Open, and improving his chances of playing in more of the big-money tournaments is the reason he's not at home with his feet up at the end of a rewarding campaign.

"My season has been pleasing for a number of reasons, winning again being the smaller picture and getting back on the European Tour being the bigger picture," said the Prestonpans man who now lives in London - he moved there with his girlfriend - and is based at Old Fold Manor near Barnet."However, the way it pans out means I've effectively got the 34th card up for grabs next season, so it will be a massive help if I can improve on that at the final stage.

"I am going there without feeling any pressure, which is certainly helpful, and even if I can add one or two events to my schedule next season, that could make a huge difference, especially if they are some of the bigger ones."

Russell, who finished fourth in the 1988 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and represented Scotland in the Dunhill Cup and World Cup, admits it will feel a bit strange for him at first when he steps back on to the main Tour, which is likely to be in South Africa early in the New Year.

"A lot has changed - there are plenty of new faces," he added. "I'll be keeping my head down and working as hard as I can to make sure that I maximise the opportunities that come my way. I know what to expect at that level, but I'm looking forward to it and am determined to enjoy it.

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"I know from experience there can be times on Tour when you feel as though you are hitting your head against a brick wall. Little things start creeping in that can affect you and your game. But hopefully I can deal with that sort of thing better now if it happens to me in the future."

Russell's return to the big time is undoubtedly a boost for Scottish golf, the player admitting the support he received from Srixon, his club and ball supplier, in particular, had helped him retain the desire to climb back up the ladder again.

"Srixon have supported me now for the guts of a decade. Even during the time I was struggling over the past four or five years, they stuck by me and there's no doubt that I've been grateful for that sort of backing."