Grace in race for Challenge Tour finale

Branden Grace knows that his chances of getting onto the European Tour next year depend on his performance this week in the Roma Golf Open on the Challenge Tour.

The 23-year-old South African who won his maiden Sunshine Tour title at the 2011 Coca-Cola Championship has played 19 times on the Challenge Tour this year, and, in the season’s penultimate event in the Eternal City, he finds himself in 18th position on the Challenge Tour rankings with €57,514.

That puts him just €3,000 clear of Florian Praegant in 21st place, and €4,000 adrift of Simon Thornton in 15th place, a position of relative safety – the top 20 positions in the final 2011 European Challenge Tour rankings will obtain full playing rights to the 2012 European Tour International Schedule.

The top 10 is every player’s aim, guaranteeing a better category than positions 11 to 20. That means Grace will have to earn more than €13,000 at this point in order to get into contention for one of those spots.

Grace started the Challenge Tour season with a bang, finishing in third place behind winner Michiel Bothma in the Barclays Kenya Open, and he has racked up four other top-10 performances since then.

His best showing came with his second place in the Acaya Open in July, but he has battled since then. He managed to finish 13th in the Rolex Trophy in July, but he missed the cut three times.

Last week, he seemed to have his game back on track with his 18th-place finish in the ALLIANZ Golf Open de Lyon, but will need a good performance in Rome ahead of the season-ending Apulia San Domenico Grand Final from November 2.

The finale is open to only the top 45 players on the rankings, and Tyrone Ferreira and Bothma find themselves close to the edge in the race to get into that €330,000 event. Ferreira is in 41st, and Bothma, who has not had a great year since his Kenyan victory, is in 43rd.

The Roma Golf Open gets underway on Thursday at Olgiata Golf Club. For anyone between 20th and 50th, a win in Rome would allow them to leap into the top 20, and for any player from 50th to roughly 100th victory would give them a shot at the Grand Final.

Grace needs to grab his chance.

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