For the regular golf punters, the tournament this week is simply called the Castello Masters; for a handful of professional golfers, however, its the Last-Chance-To-Avoid-Q-Schoool Tournament.
Yes, the Castello Masters featuring Sergio Garcia, for goodness sake is the last normal event of the 2008 PGA European Tour calendar. The Volvo Masters next week is an invitation-only affair for the top 60 in the money list; in Spain this week something more cruel is decided than European No 1.
The money list decides who comes back on Tour next year and who is left in limbo. The top 115 finishers provided you are a fully-signed up member of the Tour will receive an automatic Tour Card that provides access to almost all the events of the following season. The 116th finisher and those above have just a few options; the most likely is a trip to Q School where 30 more Tour Cards are given out. That sounds reasonable until you remember that 900+ pros (and even some top amateurs) all want one of those Cards.
So the Castello Masters is meaningful for more than just the leaderboard; its a battle between Last Man In (115th on the money list) and First Man Out (116th) once the tournament prize money is handed out on Sunday night.
This years top 115 is slightly complicated by three players – including Greg Norman – already well within that group who are associate members of the Tour; their positions wont count when deciding on Tour Cards for 2009, so its 118th place on the money list that will be safe on Sunday and 119th that will be crying in his beer.
Here are the runners and riders this week who you need to watch in this race: Swedens Patrik Sjoland is 118th as the players tee it up and, luckily, secured the very last entry spot in the tournament. This is a former winner on Tour who was at Q School last year. He can expect two or three players to whoosh past him in the final week, but no more than that; he probably only needs to make the cut to secure a spot.
If Sjoland makes the cut, then Sam Little in 117th is vulnerable. He is also playing this week and has a history of last-minute escapes; no more dramatic than last year when he finished 2nd in the last event, won 222,000 and moved from 164th in the money list to 76th.
At 115th at the start of the Castello Masters is Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Gonnet who has played 28 tournaments but not had a single top 10 finish.
One of these three Sjoland, Little or Gonnet is likely to lose his position of safety, but who might come flying through to take it? Well, Wales Gary Houston is only 120nd and Sam Walker of England is 122nd. Either of them finishing top 20 would probably make it easily. Hollands Joost Luiten at 124th might do it with a top 10.
But maybe the spotlight should fall on Stuart Manley, another Welshman. He led at halfway in the previous tournament, the Portugal Masters, but fell away at the weekend to end up 14th. But his 45,000 in prize money has given him hope. This week he sits 154th in the list with just 120,000 in seasons winnings. It is Stuart who needs a top 3 finish this week to secure a remarkable Tour Card and do what Sam Little did last year.
It is Stuart and his fellow nearly men at the bottom end of the money list who you should focus on this week. To save your season in the last event of the year can take as much guts as winning. And whoever fails is then off to Q School and the prospect of more pain next month. Good luck to them all they deserve it.
For more on Ross’ book visit: Golf On The Edge: Triumphs & Tragedies Of Q School