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Europe’s rising golf stars face off in Dubai

Dubai: Almost nine months since the start of the 2013 European Challenge Tour, the moment of truth has arrived for the 45 golfers who will tee-off in Thursday’s first round of the Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club.

A strong showing over the next four days at the Par 72 classic links-style course will ensure that the top 15 finishers in the order of merit will secure European tour cards for next year, sealing their elevation to the sport’s premier division.

And with the prize pot set at a tantalising €330,000 (Dh1.66 million), of which €56,650 is reserved for the winner, the stakes could not be higher for the aspiring golf stars, headed by Andrea Pavan.

The 6ft 2in Italian, who leads the Challenge Tour Rankings following a dominant season that has yielded two wins and five top-10 finishes, is hoping for a strong finish in a tournament he won two years ago.

“To finish the rankings as number one would be great,” Pavan said. “It’s something I can control if I play well and hopefully I can do that. But if somebody goes on and plays better than me, I can’t do anything about it. If I know that I put everything into it then I’ll be satisfied.

“If someone told me I was number one going into Grand Final at the start of the season I don’t know if I would have believed them.

“Towards the end of last year I was struggling with my confidence. It was very disappointing but I learned from it and got back, worked hard in winter and got hungry again to get good results and get consistent again.

“My win in the Grand Final in 2011 was certainly one of the greatest moments of my career — it was huge. But this year in general and the two wins I had were quite big.

“This year has felt better than two years ago. In the first season, you come out and there is less pressure, but when you gain your card and fall back it can get harder for you.

“I was proud I make a good comeback, it’s not easy to get back up and I showed that I can do it. It gives me a lot of confidence, especially because I do get down on myself sometimes so I need to believe in myself a bit more.”

Pavan will be joined by some of the world’s most talented youngsters, as well as experienced stars such as former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson, in the unique event with no cut.

It also offers fans the ideal warm-up for the European Tour season-ending DP World Championship here in two weeks’ time and the Ladies European Tour’s final event of the 2013 season — the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters — in December.

Entry for spectators is free and free golf lessons will also be available, along with an invitation to take part in the Al Badia Golf Club Nearest the Pin Challenge.

The Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final is sponsored by Al Futtaim Automotive Group, Al Futtaim Group Real Estate, LG, IHG, Rolex, Abacus, Titleist, Dubai Festival City and Al Badia Golf Club.