Finland’s Kalle Samooja secured his European Tour card for next season and rocketed up to second in the Road to Ras Al Khaimah after picking up his first European Challenge Tour title at the Hainan Open.
The 30-year-old, who moves up to a career-best 200th in the Official World Golf Ranking with his win, led from start to finish on the final day at Sanya Luhuitou Golf Club but was pushed all the way by Grant Forrest, who was just one shot behind walking up to the final hole. However, the Scotsman was unable to convert his birdie putt on the last leaving Samooja with two putts for the title in which he duly obliged.
With the win, Samooja jumps from tenth to second on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah on 136,993 points, securing his European Tour status for next season and edging him closer to Denmark’s Joachim B. Hansen at the summit of the Rankings.
Samooja will have two tournaments to chase Hansen at the top with the Challenge Tour heading to Foshan Golf Club for the Foshan Open before finishing the season at Al Hamra Golf Club for the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final. The season-ending event will welcome the top 45 players on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah Rankings from Wednesday, October 31 to Saturday, November 3 as they bid to secure one of the 15 coveted European Tour cards available for next season which are awarded to the top 15 players in the Rankings following the conclusion of play.
“I’ve been hunting for a trophy for a pretty long time and that’s what made me emotional in the prize-giving ceremony,” said Samooja after his triumph on the first leg of the Challenge Tour’s Chinese Swing.
“You’ve got to give yourself enough chances and I felt earlier this week that my putter was pretty hot, so I knew that this might be the week if I just kept doing what I was doing.
“It’s a huge win for me personally. I’ve been hunting for a European Tour card for a long time and I think this is the best way to get on the European Tour, by finishing in the top 15 on the Challenge Tour. It’s been a long season and finally, I can be sure that I’ll be playing there next year.”
Forrest’s runner-up finish strengthened his position in the top 15 of the Road to Ras Al Khaimah after moving from 13th to seventh on 112,667 points and has now all but secured his European Tour playing privileges for next season.
Meanwhile, Sean Crocker finished three behind Samooja in third place, which helped him get a much-needed boost up the Rankings. The American jumps from 36th to 17th in the Road to Ras Al Khaimah, just two places off receiving a European Tour card for next season with two events remaining.
The Challenge Tour now travels to Foshan City, China for the Foshan Open, which will be the 27th event on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah and the final opportunity to qualify for the season-ending Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final.
Frenchman Damien Perrier currently lies in 46th in the Rankings and will be targeting a strong finish in China as he aims to qualify for the season finale and a shot at a European Tour card once again. The 29-year-old secured playing privileges in 2016 after finishing 13th on the Challenge Tour Rankings but was unable to keep hold of his card the following year after a poor season saw him finish 174th on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Another player on the bubble of the top 45 is Darius Van Driel, who lies in 51st on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah despite securing a maiden Challenge Tour title at the inaugural Euram Bank Open in July. Other than his win, the Dutchman doesn’t have a top 20 finish to his name in 2018 but will be hoping to put that right with a strong finish at the Foshan Open which could open the door for a spot at the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final.
The Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final takes place at Al Hamra Golf Club from Wednesday, October 31 to Saturday 1. Entry for spectators is free of charge.