By Brian Keogh
Belfast’s Michael Hoey still leads the Irish contingent on the European Challenge Tour despite withdrawing after the first round of the Credit Suisse Challenge in Switzerland where former Ryder Cup star Peter Baker re-launched his career with a one-stroke win over Scotland’s Andrew McArthur.
Hoey was feeling run down after a steady run of events, preferring to save his energy for the Smurfit Kappa European Open and the forthcoming Challenge of Ireland presented by Glasson at Glasson Golf Hotel & CC in Athlone.
But there was a fairytale win for Baker, 39, which allowed him to prove to his two daughters that their father is the true champion he had been trying to convince them he was for well over a decade.
Grace Baker was not even born the last time her dad won the Tournoi Perrier de Paris in 1994, while Georgina was just over one year old, unaware that Baker was one of Europe’s finest golfers, who had performed magnificently at the 1993 Ryder Cup, winning three points out of four at The Belfry, and won five events on Tour in the space of six years.
This victory is very sweet for me,” reflected Baker. “Yes, I have won on Tour and done it at The Ryder Cup but this win means a lot for so many reasons and one of the most important is that my youngest daughter, who is 13, had never seen me win before so now I have proved to her that I can actually play.”
Baker is now targeting a return to the European Tour via the top 20 on the rankings. His win at the Credit Suisse Challenge elevated him to 11th place with season’s earnings of €33,357 and he moved up to 10th when he was fifth in Portugal the following week
Hoey is less that €6,000 outside the top 20 in 26th place with Dubliner Stephen Browne showing signs of a return to form after sharing third place in the MAN NÖ Open in Austria during Open week at Carnoustie.
Denmark’s Anders Schmidt Hansen claimed his maiden title in Austria with a three shot victory at Golfclub Adamstal as Browne finished seven off the pace on four under par to move up to 56th in the Rankings. Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin, a successful campaigner on the US Hooters Tour, missed the cut along with Kerryman Danny Sugrue.
Three Irishman are in the top 10 on the PGA Europro Tour money list after the first nine events of the season.
Glasson’s Colm Moriarty is the best of the bunch in second place with £17,930 after the Claytons Kola Tonic Championship at The Players Club in Bristol.
Michael McDermott sits fifth on the list with Brian McElhinney sixth after England’s Graeme Clark triumphed by four shots to add the Bristol title to his victory at Faithlegg in May and top the money list with over £24,000
Moriarty held a share of the first round lead with England’s Matthew Woods in Bristol after opening with a flawless, four-under par 68.
But he fell back to sixth place with a round to go after a 73 and left Donegal’s Brendan McCarroll, the former East of Ireland champion, as the leading Irish contender in a share of second place.
Clark had surged five strokes in front on 10-under par after a superb 65 as McCarroll hit a 67. But in the final round, the Irishman got off to a slow start and did well to card a 73.
Clark closed with a 70 to win by four from compatriot Mark Smith with McCarroll picking up £1,433, his biggest cheque of the season, as he shared fourth place and jumped to 34th in the money list with £2,342 from eight starts.
Moriarty also closed with a 73 and had to settle for a share of eighth place with Dubliner Gary Cullen on two under. Galway’s Mark O’Sullivan was the next best of the Irish contingent as he tied for 18th place on level par.
(European Seniors Tour)
Delgany’s Eamonn Darcy led the Irish challenge on the European Seniors Tour money list as the over 50s headed to Muirfield for the Senior Open Championship.
The former Ryder Cup hero shared 13th place in the Open de France Senior de Divonne where Spain’s Juan Quiros captured the title by a stroke from England’s Tony Allen in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
Quiros, whose only previous Seniors title came across the border in the Swiss Alps last year, closed in two under par 70 for a 54 hole aggregate of eight under par 208, while a charging Allen finished with four threes for a 68 to snatch his second runner-up spot of the season.
While Darcy was 23rd in the rankings heading to Scotland, Champions Tour player Des Smyth was the next best of the Irish contingent in 26th place after appearances in the US Senior PGA, US Senior Open and the Ryder Cup Wales Senior Open, where he was tied fourth.
The season has been something of a struggle for Smyth, whose best finish from 16 starts in the US is a share of fourth place in the AT&T Champions Classic in March.
Ranked 37th on the Champions Tour money list with $303,494, Smyth needs a strong finish to the season in the United States to ensure full playing privileges for 2008.
(Ladies European Tour)
Royal County Down amateur Danielle McVeigh and Cork’s Claire Coughlan will get the chance to join Rebecca Coakley in the Ricoh Women’s British Open when they tee it up in Final Qualifying on the New Course at St Andrews on July 30.
McVeigh carded a level par 72 to share ninth place in pre-qualifying at The Berkshire Golf Club on 16 July as Coughlan carded a 73 to claim one of 29 spots in the final qualifying event for the Women’s Open on the Old Course, St Andrews from 2-5 August.
Heading into the prestigious Evian Masters, Coakley was Ireland’s leading player on the Ladies European Tour as she sat in 25th place on the money list with over €35,000 from 12 starts.
Q-School graduates Coughlan and Martina Gillen have been picking up plenty of experience in their rookie seasons on the LET though results have been somewhat disappointing so far.
Ranked 117th on the money list, Coughlan was 42nd in the KLM Ladies Open in June but since missed the cut in the French, Portuguese and English Opens.
Gillen made just her second cut of the season when she finished 37th in Portugal but missed out in the Golf Punk Ladies English Open and is 124th in the Order of Merit with €1,949 from seven starts.