Joachim B. Hansen is looking to become the first Dane since Thomas Bjørn in 1995 to finish the season as European Challenge Tour number one by claiming victory at the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final.
The 28-year-old goes into the season-ending event with a lead of 47,024 points over second-placed Victor Perez after an excellent campaign which has included two victories, five top-fives and nine top-ten finishes.
“I’m feeling really good heading into the Grand Final,” said Hansen who won his first Challenge Tour title at the Turkish Airlines Challenge earlier this year.
“The goal this week is to win again and to stay at the top of the Rankings. This has been the season of my life. Everything in my game has been so steady and everything has improved, I’ve also managed to keep so calm and cool throughout the year.
“To be in this position is great as you do feel relaxed. The guys lying around the top-15 know that they need a good result here to save their season next year, or even their career.”
With 184,260 points already banked, Hansen can also make more history in the Middle East. A victory would see him break the record for the largest points haul in a single Challenge Tour season – Ricardo Gouveia is the current holder of that title after he earned 251,592 points when he topped the Rankings in 2015.
Meanwhile, Perez comes into the tournament in scintillating form with seven consecutive top-20 finishes including a win at the last Challenge Tour tournament, the Foshan Open, which saw him surge from 16th to second in the Rankings.
“I am delighted to be here and it’s a big change from last year,” said the Frenchman. “To go into the final last year in 16th was a very different challenge as now I start the week in second place and there is a lot on the line – I can win the Order of Merit, I just need to take down JB.”
Kalle Samooja is also in the hunt to be named Challenge Tour No.1 and currently lies in third place on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah.
The Finn secured his European Tour status earlier this month thanks to a win at the Hainan Open but will be hoping to put the icing on the cake by topping the Rankings following the Al Hamra showdown.
“After the win in Hainan, this year has been ten out of ten,” said Samooja. “Before that I’d had a lot of top tens and had been close on a couple of occasions, and now I can’t wait for the future. I have to win this week to have a chance to finish the season as number one, but it is a similar course to the one in Hainan and hopefully that will play to my advantage.”
As well as the battle to be named Challenge Tour No.1 there are 15 coveted European Tour cards to be won for those that finish in the top-15 of the Road to Ras Al Khaimah Rankings following the tournament.
With only 3,735 points separating Road to Ras Al Khaimah Number 15 Tom Murray and Oliver Wilson, who currently sits in 18th position, it will go down to the wire at the stunning Al Hamra Golf Club.
Along with Wilson, every player competing in the 45-man field can secure a European Tour card by triumphing in the Grand Final. Antoine Rozner, the 45th and final man into the event, arrives in the United Arab Emirates 41,721 points away from 15th place with 72,000 points awarded to the winner.
The four-day tournament begins at Al Hamra Golf Club at 8.00am on Wednesday and is free to enter for spectators.
OSN Sports 3 will broadcast a highlights programme every night of the tournament starting at 22:30 with two repeats the following day.
Xander Schauffele beat Tony Finau in a play-off to win the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
The 25-year-old birdied the final two holes to card a four-under 68 and then birdied the par-five 18th to secure a third PGA title.
Finau, who carded a final-round 71, had to lay up after finding the bunker in the play-off and missed a 20-foot birdie putt to hand the title to Schauffele.
Defending champion Justin Rose finished third after a closing 72.
American Tony Finau claimed a three-shot lead at the halfway stage of the WGC-HSBC Champions, where defending champion Justin Rose is part of a star-studded chasing pack.
Finau added a second round of 67 to his opening 66 at Sheshan International to finish 11 under par, with Rose on eight under alongside his Ryder Cup team-mate Tommy Fleetwood and Masters champion Patrick Reed.
Rose, who is looking to become only the second player after Tiger Woods to successfully defend a World Golf Championships event, carded five birdies in a flawless 67, while Fleetwood returned a 68 and overnight leader Reed had to settle for a 72.
Finau recorded eight birdies, one bogey and an unfortunate double bogey on the 11th, where his approach bounced off a sprinkler head and careered over the green.
“I’m really pleased,” the American Ryder Cup player said. “I played nicely and was happy with the way I finished. I was pleased to make a few birdies coming down the stretch.
“That was about as bad a break as I’ve ever had (on 11), to kick all the way over the green into the hazard. One thing I’ve learned in this game, you take the good with the bad and keep moving forward.
“I knew I was playing well still and still at the top of the leaderboard. Just keep plugging along and try to get that back and I was able to do that.
“There’s a lot of great players here that are looking to chase me down. I’ve got to stay in attack mode, continue to make birdies and if I limit the mistakes, I think it will be a good weekend.
“I’ve put myself in a position to win a few times this season. I think I’ve learned from it and hopefully can use that experience on this weekend.”
Rose, who can return to the top of the world rankings with a tie for second or better, recovered from eight shots behind with just 18 holes to play 12 months ago, sparking a remarkable run of form which yielded a total of four wins, 14 top-10 finishes and a solitary missed cut in 25 events.
“It was a bogey-free round so that’s pretty tidy,” the FedEx Cup champion said. “Those rounds don’t often come, especially in breezy conditions.
“I kept it mentally sharp and I felt like towards the end of the round I was trying to whip myself and keep driving forward and making good decisions and good swings.
“I came into this tournament last year off a bunch of top 10s. I was feeling comfortable with my game and I feel a similar spot right now and I feel there’s nothing to lose.
“Obviously there’s the added incentive of trying to get the 2019 PGA TOUR season off to a good start, so there’s the mental freshness that that gives you, but yeah, I feel like I’m in a similar spot.”
Rose played alongside new world number one Brooks Koepka, who appeared to be struggling with a back injury as he battled to a 74, including three birdies in the last five holes, which left him 13 shots off the pace on two over par.
England’s Matt Fitzpatrick began the day three off the lead but slumped to a second round of 80 to finish three over par, while Rory McIlroy is two shots worse off after a 77 which included a triple-bogey eight on the second.