It rarely gets as nail-biting as this. In what was fittingly described by the European Tour as the “Battle on the Bubble”, several pros arrived in the Algarve with their immediate careers on the line.
The Portugal Masters at Dom Pedro Victoria was the last regular event of the season, and players wanting to maintain their playing cards for 2020 – and qualify to compete in the lucrative end-of-year Race to Dubai final series – needed to finish among the top 115 in the annual rankings.
During an exciting, and emotional, roller-coaster on Sunday, the various scenarios provided joy for some, and anguish for others.
The happiest man at Vilamoura was Englishman Steven Brown, who entered the event 150th in the rankings, needing a top-three finish to hold on to his playing privileges, and expecting he would be off to the Qualifying School in November. He passed the test in grand style, winning his first Tour title at 32.
Of his surprise victory, he said, “You just never know with this game. I never thought this was going to happen. I was just counting down the days until Tour School to get my game ready for that. The last few weeks I’ve had a calmness in my head. Even today, I liked the fact that I had to go for it and I wasn’t just trying to have a good result. That’s probably the difference.”
South African Justin Walters was also delighted – albeit with mixed feelings – for the second time in six years. In 2013, just weeks after the death of his mother, he holed a 30-metre putt on the 72nd hole to secure second place and his Tour card. Six years later, Walters arrived in Portugal 121st in the Race to Dubai rankings, after sadly losing his father in August. Again, a runner-up finish enabled him to keep his card and move up to 79th. If he hadn’t bogeyed the 18th he would have been in a play-off with Brown, and who knows what could have happened.
“It’s very satisfying just after what we’ve been through,” he said. “It’s about finding a bit of perspective after the loss of my dad. I just felt lost, I was trying to get too much out of the game and looking at that to solve my problems and issues.”
In addition to Brown and Walters, other players who started the weekend outside the bubble but managed to keep their cards were Jeugnhun Wang and Jack Singh Brar, who finished sixth and eighth, respectively.
Not so fortunate, however, were Clément Sordet (113th) and Lee Slattery (115th), who had faced an anxious weekend after missing the cut, as did Paul Dunne (118th).
Golf is just one of the many great leisure options in the Algarve. Check out our Area Guide section to find out what else you can enjoy away from the fairways.