Caldwell eyes miracle; Shaw makes Oman move
 Jonny Caldwell in action in the Northern Ireland Open Challenge at Galgorm Castle. Picture: Thos Caffrey /  www.golffile.ie

Jonny Caldwell in action in the Northern Ireland Open Challenge at Galgorm Castle. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

Clandeboye's Jonny Caldwell — Rory McIlroy's foursomes partner in the 2007 Walker Cup — has given himself a chance of winning what would be a miraculous promotion to the Challenge Tour.

Playing just his fifth event of the season on the PGA Europro Tour after a long period in the doldrums, the 30 year old is tied for fifth entering the final round of the season-ending Visit Egypt Tour Championships - El Gouna after a second round 69 moved up to two under par.

The top five in the Europro Tour's money list — the Race to El Gouna — win automatic promotion to the Challenge Tour, where Caldwell was once a regular.

And the former Irish international and East of Ireland champion should get there if he finishes second at the Red Sea Resort where Elliott Saltman (71) leads by two shots on six under from  Alex Wrigley, James Frazer and Nick McCarthy.

He's 14th in the money list, just £400 behind Saltman, but also less than £6,000 outside the fifth spot with money leader Jack Senior likely to regain his Challenge Tour card.

With £15,000 for the winner and £8,000 for second, Caldwell may not be able to afford to fall into the big logjam for third place.

His performances since returning to the Europro Tour in July have certainly been more than encouraging — T6 at Concra Wood and T22 at Mount Wolseley followed by two second place finishes in the UK.

 Jonny Caldwell with his new bag sponsor. Picture via Irish Mirror.

Jonny Caldwell with his new bag sponsor. Picture via Irish Mirror.

With a new sponsor on board,  McLean Bookmakers, he's confident he can do it and potentially find himself competing alongside McIlroy again some day.

“The ambition is still there," he told the Irish Mirror. "It may have left me for a while when I wasn’t playing great because this is a game which can beat you up. But I’m hitting the ball better and the confidence is back.

“I haven’t been in touch with Rory for a while. Am I envious of him? Not in the least. He was always destined for greatness and achieve crazy things. But I’m not so sure I’d want his type of lifestyle. He can hardly leave the house to buy a pint of milk without getting stopped. He handles himself very well and it says a lot about him.

“I’m going to Egypt in good shape. A top five place might be enough, but a top three will definitely get me there and after two top two places in four events, I don’t see any reason why I can’t graduate to the Challenge Tour.”

Michael McGeady's hopes of making a huge move up the money list were dented by a 74 that leaves him tied 22nd on three over with Tim Rice (76) tied 31st and Richard Kilpatrick (76) tied 41st.

McGeady is preparing for next week's Second Stage of the European Tour Qualifying School where he will be in action at El Saler.

At least seven Irish players will be in action at the four venues with Niall Turner at Las Colinas in Alicante; David Higgins, Niall Kearney, Brendan McCarroll and Mark Murphy at Lumine Beach in Tarragona; and Ruaidhri McGee at Panoramica in Castellón.

 Gareth Shaw at Galgorm Castle earlier this year. Picture: Thos Caffrey /  www.golffile.ie

Gareth Shaw at Galgorm Castle earlier this year. Picture: Thos Caffrey / www.golffile.ie

Despite taking a chance on skipping Stage One in the hope he'd be in the Top 90 in the Challenge Tour rankings, 92nd ranked Gareth Shaw can also make if he finishes well in Oman this week.

The Lurgan golfer celebrated his 29th birthday by firing a four under 68 in the opening round of the National Bank of Oman Classic, leaving him solo third. 

Shaw needs a big result if he is to play his way into the field for next week’s season-ending Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club.

The Challenge Tour reported:

Only the top 45 at the conclusion of this week’s third event of the Challenge Tour’s four-week ‘Final Swing’ make it to the spectacular finale but a good result this week would at least secure full playing privileges on the second tier for next season.

He was delighted with his timely return to form and believes it was down to just enjoying his birthday out on the beautiful Almouj Golf, The Wave course with two affable playing partners.

“It was just really solid,” said Shaw. “I hit 16 greens in regulation, had a couple of good up and downs. The most important part of my round was probably the par four sixth hole, where I held a ten footer for par. Then I birdied the next, so that kind of kept me going and kept me in the round.

“I hit a couple of shots close on the back nine whereas on the front nine I was hitting it pretty far from the hole, but I’m happy with that start.

“I’m just trying to enjoy it a bit more. I haven’t been enjoying my golf at all recently, mainly because I’m not hitting it how I would like to be. I had a good three-ball today with Lloyd Kennedy and young amateur Haydn McCullen so it was a really enjoyable round.

“I don’t really know about my permutations for keeping my Challenge Tour card but I just want to play a bit of golf, pick a few targets and see how it all goes. I got off to a good start and I’m really happy with that. My putting feels good and I like the course, it sets up well.

“It’s a beautiful place. The course is fantastic, along the seaside, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow, playing with the lads and something similar in terms of my score would be very nice.

“It’s not a bad way to spend your birthday on such a nice course, in this weather and at such a good tournament.”

 Jason Barnes. Picture © Phil Inglis

Jason Barnes. Picture © Phil Inglis

As for the tournament, Jason Barnes carded a stunning seven under par 65 to move one shot clear of Lasse Jensen.

The 30 year old, 25th in the Rankings, fired ten birdies over the testing Greg Norman-designed lay-out and posted the overnight lead despite a three-putt bogey from 25 feet at the last hole

Jensen, meanwhile, is another one of those players seeking to break into the top 15 of the Rankings ahead of next week’s season-ending Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club and the Dane did his chances of achieving that goal no harm with a six under opening 66.

National Bank of Oman Classic, Rd 1

65 J Barnes (Eng) ,

66 L Jensen (Den) ,

68 G Shaw (Nir) ,

69 J Palmer (Eng) , C Paisley  (Eng) , P Oriol (Esp) , P Edberg (Swe) , A McArthur  (Sco) , R Gouveia (Por) ,

70 J Sjöholm (Swe) , G Murray  (Sco) , C Hanson (Eng) , P Figueiredo  (Por) , B Ritthammer (Ger) , T Remkes (Ned) , P Widegren  (Swe) , C McDonnell (Eng) , P Maddy (Eng) , S Henry  (Sco) ,

71 B Chapellan (Fra) , R Davies (Wal) , W Booth  (Sco) , M Orrin (Eng) , R Kind (Ned) , T Sluiter  (Ned) , N Ravano (Ita) , H Bacher (Aut) , M Lafeber (Ned) ,

72 M Ford (Eng) , W Besseling  (Ned) , S Hutsby  (Eng) , L Kennedy  (Eng) , G Cambis  (Fra) , J Rask (Swe) , M Delpodio  (Ita) , C Ford (Eng) , B An (Kor) , D Law (Sco) , N Quintarelli (Ita) , D Gaunt (Eng) , P Relecom  (Bel) , J Senior (Eng) ,

73 P Dwyer (Eng) , A Snobeck  (Fra) , E Espana (Fra) , M Tullo (Chi) , O Stark (Swe) , J Fahrbring (Swe) , B Hebert  (Fra) , T Pilkadaris (Aus) , B Åkesson (Swe) , P Hedblom (Swe) , T Murray (Eng) , J Lagergren (Swe) , M Fitzpatrick  (Eng) , F Bergamaschi (Ita) , A Tadini (Ita) , S Tiley (Eng) , W Harrold (Eng) , J Roos (RSA) , O Farr (Wal) , D Coupland (Eng) ,

74 T Linard (Fra) , C Bouniol (Fra) , M Lampert (Ger) , A Bernadet  (Fra) , S Brown (Eng) , J Moul  (Eng) , N Dougherty  (Eng) , M Jonzon (Swe) , J Stalter (Fra) , J Guerrier  (Fra) , A Velasco (Esp) , D Ulrich (Sui) , J Edfors (Swe) , J Garcia Pinto (Esp) ,

75 A Rota (Ita) , R Coles (Eng) , J Winther (Den) , P Stojanovski (Aus) , B Evans  (Eng) , J Makitalo  (Fin) , D Stewart (Sco) , A Björk (Swe) , N Lemke (Swe) , C Aguilar  (Esp) , H McCullen (am) (Eng) , H Mubarak (am) (Brn) ,

76 C Nicoll (Sco) , B Longmuir (Sco) , K Benz (Sui) , M Wiegele  (Aut) , A Hortal  (Esp) , D Kemmer (USA) , R McEvoy  (Eng) , N Yacoob Saleh (am) (Brn) , A Al Rumhy (am) (Oma) ,

77 J Huldahl (Den) , R McGowan  (Eng) ,

78 S Fallon (Eng) , C Shinkwin (Eng) , L Gagli  (Ita) ,

79 A Al Musharrekh (Uae) , S Arnold  (Aus) , C Brazillier  (Fra) , H Joannes  (Bel) ,

80 M Haines  (Eng) ,

82 T Pfister (Sui) , J Lando Casanova  (Fra) ,

86 J Townsend (Aus) ,

88 J Singleton (Eng) ,

90 H Al Harthy (am) (Oma) ,

91 D Hon (RSA) ,

92 A Hameed Saleh (am) (Oma)