Five days but only three rounds, that is going to be the story of the Andalucia Valderrama Masters. Previously reduced to 54 holes due to bad weather early, the tournament backed by the Sergio Garcia Foundation – and led by the eponymous host – was further delayed by thunder and lightning storms during what should have been the fourth and final day.
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Through seven holes of his third round, Garcia is 10-under par and holds a three-shot edge over former world No.1 Lee Westwood, with Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano one stroke further back. Garcia had begun his third round with a four-shot lead after a best-of-the-week seven-under 64 on Saturday. Play is schedule to re-start on Monday at 9:10am local time (8:10pm, NZDT).
The decision to extend the event – which Garcia has already won twice, including last year – by 24 hours was straightforward, understandable and justifiable all in one. As the last regular season-event on the 2018 European Tour calendar before the three-strong Race to Dubai playoff series begins with the Turkish Airlines Open, the Andalucia Valderrama Masters represents the last chance for those players vying for all-exempt status in 2019. Officially, the top 110 on the Race to Dubai rankings attain such a position, but this year that number rises to 116 after the elimination of six ineligible players on what used to be the Order of Merit.
So it is that the likes of Fernandez-Castano [below], a seven-time winner on the European Tour, will perhaps be under even more pressure than the leader over the closing holes. The 38-year-old arrived at the 1997 Ryder Cup venue in 125th spot on the Race to Dubai. The same can be said for Scotland’s Marc Warren and England’s Matthew Nixon. Both started the week outside the top 116, both are four-under par, and both need a strong finish to move up enough to save their cards.
Others with even more tenuous holds on their playing credentials for next season include former US Amateur champion Richie Ramsay and six-time tour winner David Horsey. Ramsay arrived in 124th place and is one-under par (T-20) with six holes to play. The 116th-placed Horsey is T-40 with only four holes left.
Already condemned to visiting the tour school is former BMW PGA champion Matteo Manassero, who missed the halfway (or should that be two-thirds?) cut this week. The same fate also looks likely for another Italian, Edoardo Molinari. The elder brother of Open champion Francesco, and another former US Amateur winner, is T-31 standing on the 16th tee, having begun the week in 137th place on the Race to Dubai.