GARY Lockerbie, Penrith’s former English Amateur champion, is on course to make a spectacular return to the European Tour as the winner of the Challenge Tour Order of Merit.
Understandably, he feels far from weighed down by his current No 1 spot in the rankings as he returns to the event which in 2008 produced his biggest career win – the Challenge Tour season’s ‘Major’, the Kazakhstan Open.
Second-placed Swede Magnus Carlsson closed the gap last week at the M2M Russian Challenge Cup.
This week’s £320,000 event at Zhailjau Golf Resort carries a first prize of £51,000 and is sure to play a pivotal part in the battle to follow Tommy Fleetwood and become the tour’s number one player for 2012.
Lockerbie has form in this tournament and his win in 2008 at Nurtau Golf Club, the other course in Almaty which hosts this event biannually, played a massive part in his gaining a European Tour card for 2009.
Neither Lockerbie nor Carlsson have won this year but produced results at the most lucrative tournaments, the dual-ranking Madeira Islands Open – Portugal and St Omer Open.
Lockerbie does not think it will become a duel between himself and the Swede.
“I don’t look too much at the rankings,” he said. “People remind me of it a lot but it’s not the biggest issue.
“I’m not just trying to beat Magnus every week and if it turned into a match play situation where we’re just trying to beat each other every week it wouldn’t be good for our golf.
“I’m sure that Magnus is trying equally as hard but we just want to do our best and see where we end up.
“There are still loads of players who can win the rankings and anyone who wins here will be right up there and have a very good chance.
“I just want to get to the Grand Final – the last tournament at the end of October – and there will probably be a few of us in with a shout so it will be exciting.”
The 29-year-old believes that there is much less pressure now that he is guaranteed a European Tour card and that could suit the laid-back Cumbrian.
“I guess there’s a little less pressure because of where I am in the rankings but I’ll still be trying as hard and it would still be great to come out on top at the end of the week,” he said. “I’m just going to enjoy myself.
“I’ve won the tournament before but it’s a totally different venue and they’re opposites as courses – the last one was tight and the scores were high; this is wider and scores will be lower.
“It’s a lovely course. It’s very new and it’s a modern golf course. The rough is up from what the members play but it looks like a score-able course, although the greens act as a defence as they’ve got a lot of slopes.
“It could be good fun if the greens firm up but it’s going to be a good week, I’m going to have to go deep.”
Although the top 20 win European Tour cards, the former Northumberland amateur champion Chris Paisley will be well aware that it’s a top ten spot which earns admission to most of the events with bigger prize money.
He is last man in place at the moment at number ten, with Barnard Castle’s Robert Dinwiddie in need of some good results to lift him from 61st place to a third spell on the main tour.
Aside from Kristoffer Broberg, who gained automatic promotion to The European Tour thanks to three Challenge Tour wins this season, and Raymond Russell, all of the top 20 players on the Challenge Tour Rankings are present for what is regarded as the Challenge Tour’s Major in the Central Asian city of Almaty.
The Kazakhstan Open is an event where success almost guarantees promotion to The European Tour.
Since its inception in 2005, every winner of the tournament has gone on to gain a card for The European Tour, and the last three victors have emerged as the Challenge Tour’s Number One player that same season – Italian Edoardo Molinari in 2009, Spaniard Alvaro Velasco in 2010 before England’s Fleetwood last year.