THURSDAY WILL see the start of the first-ever Portugal Masters PGA European Tour event on the Arnold Palmer-designed Oceânico Victoria Course in Vilamoura.
With a guaranteed minimum of three million euros in prize money, the newly created tournament far exceeds the traditional Portuguese Open both in terms of attractiveness and prestige. At a time when all the season’s Majors have been completed, the latest addition to the professional golf calendar, which is set to remain in the Algarve until 2009, has attracted some of the world’s top competitors.
Although the full list of competitors will only have been announced after The Resident went to press, eight top stars of
the game have already confirmed their presence. South Africa’s Retief Goosen will be joined by the English trio of Lee Westwood, Paul Broadhurst and David Howell, Welshman Bradley Dredge as well as Ireland’s Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and Gary Murphy in the fight for the almost 600,000 euro first prize which is of additional significance in terms of qualification for the Volvo Masters held two weeks later.
Local hopes will be pinned on six Portuguese players attempting to challenge the sport’s elite on home ground. Leading the way will be the current number 89 of the European Order of Merit, Filipe Lima, the only domestic golfer to have qualified directly for this year’s European Tour. Of the remaining five invited to take part by co-organisers Turismo de Portugal, António Sobrinho (Vale de Lobo), amateur João Carlota (C.G. Vilamoura) and Ricardo Santos (Oceânico Golf Team Portugal) are Algarve-based.
The first-named 36-year-old veteran pro won his 10th national title this year and can look back on a highly successful season, while the 19 years younger Carlota has taken high order in junior events. Santos has been the best Portuguese player on the Challenge Tour and qualified directly for the second phase of the European Tour Qualifying School.
Estoril resident Tiago Cruz, currently ranked number two in Portugal behind Lima, has been threatening to make his international breakthrough for a few years now, while Pedro Figueiredo is perhaps the most exciting talent to emerge from the fledgling domestic game to date. The only 16-year-old has won both the country’s principal amateur tournaments this year, has been invited to represent Europe’s amateur selection, and will take part in his first European Tour event on foreign soil, the Madrid Open, this weekend. In 2005, the precocious youngster became the second-youngest player ever to play in a European Tour event when competing in the Portugal Open aged just 13.
Whether the assuredly large crowds see a Portuguese winner over the four days or not, top quality golf of the highest calibre is assured, a fact which can only be of benefit to a region long famed for its spectacular greens and breathtaking scenery.
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