Michael Hoey will need to shoot the lights out over the final two rounds of the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final if he is to avoid walking the Q-School plank to the European Tour.
The Northern Irishman rekindled some hope of breaking into the top-15 on the Order of Merit standings by firing a three-under-par 69 to move back to level par and at time of writing is two under par through seven holes of his third round
After a costly bogey/double bogey finish in round one, it would have been easy for Hoey to feel deflated, but his experience won out in round two and although he’s currently in a share of 24th, he’s only seven shots off the lead with still enough time to make up the deficit.
Speaking to us prior to the event, Hoey, who sits in 21st spot on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah ladder, was under no illusions of the size of the task at hand, with the threat of Q-School looming large should he fall short of his top-15 target.
“Finishing top-15 on Challenge Tour is difficult, you need those big finishes to make any ‘real money’,” said Hoey. “If you don’t you’re thinking Qualifying School, but if you didn’t get enough from it last year are you better saving €5,000? Qualifying School is a good earner for the tour too, it costs €1,800 to enter with 1,300 entered.”
“The other issue is Qualifying School comes off the back of big events in China and the final event of the year. A lot of heat, travel and golf means players are wrecked and not best prepared for Qualifying School. That’s another reason some of guys simply don’t go.”
Let’s hope he can find his best stuff over the next two days to avoid the cruellest of all golfing examinations.
At the head of affairs, Sean Crocker fired a course record-equalling 64 at Al Hamra Golf Club to join Adri Arnaus on top of the Grand Final leaderboard at the tournament’s halfway point.
The American carded seven birdies against a lone bogey but chipped in for eagle at the last to sign for the eight-under-par score, which equals the course record set by Marcel Schneider and Jurrian van der Vaart in the European Challenge Tour’s most recent trip to Ras Al Khaimah last year.
The 22-year-old only began his Challenge Tour campaign ten events into the season, but following a trio of third place finishes late in the year, he arrived at the Grand Final with everything to lose, holding the second to last European Tour graduation spot as the Road to Ras Al Khaimah Number 14.
Crocker’s opening one-under-par round of 71 saw his projected Ranking move outside the top-15, however today he resurrected his chances of earning a life-changing promotion as he is now projected to finish as the Road to Ras Al Khaimah Number Four.
“My confidence has been high going into this week but there’s also a lot of nerves because I’m right on the bubble,” he said. “After my first round I put a bit of pressure on myself because the boys below me were playing well but my game is good so I just have to go out and play this week because everybody here is an amazing player.”
Arnaus, who carded a three-under-par 69, is fighting a different battle this week. The Spaniard began the week as Road to Ras Al Khaimah Number Nine and is chasing his first win on the Challenge Tour, which would move him to second place in the Rankings and may just garner him starts in the biggest events on the European Tour next season.
“It would be really special for me to end the season with a win,” said the 24 year old. “But I’m trying not to focus on that, I just want to keep doing the things that I’m doing.
“I’ve played some solid golf and it’s been a lot of fun out there. I’ve put myself in a nice position heading into the final days so I need to keep it up.”
Sitting on nine-under-par, the co-leaders are being aggressively pursued by a group of three players only one shot back on eight-under-par.
Frenchmen Romain Langasque and Victor Perez each managed rounds of 69 on Day Two, while Portugal’s José-Filipe Lima’s six under par 66 moved him ten spots up the leaderboard to join them in third place.
England’s Tom Murray is currently the last man inside the top-15, as he was at the beginning of the week, and as things stand Portugal’s Pedro Figueiredo will be the one narrowly missing out on a European Tour card as he is projected to finish the season in 16th.