Higgins on target to reclaim Tour card

WATERVILLE'S David Higgins recently proclaimed in this column that "I will get my card back this year, of that I have no doubt."

He was referring to his upcoming European Challenge Tour campaign in which he was determined to finish in the top 15 by the end of the season and so qualify for a return to the regular tour in 2006.

He is already going the right way about making those words ring true after featuring in a play-off for the Guatemala Open at the weekend.

Though he lost out to the 41 year-old Argentinian Cesar Monasterio at the first tie hole, Higgins moved up to 5th in the Order of Merit with a total of 27,237 points.

It was a spectacular effort by Higgins who shot rounds of 68, 67, 69 and 65 for a 19 under par total of 269. That scoring underlines the quality of golf on the secondary tour.

"I was out of luck in the end but obviously I'm very happy with the way I played and I know my day will come," said the 32 year-old Kerry man. He missed a six footer on the first extra hole for par to give Monasterio the first win of his career.

It was the closest Higgins had come to winning on the Challenge Tour since he captured three titles in the 2000 season and finished second in the rankings. Current leader is the Argentinian Rafael Gomez with 52,514 points. Michael Hoey from Belfast is the leading Irishman in 4th spot with 29, 944, immediately ahead of Higgins on 27,234 while Colm Moriarty from Athlone, who shot twelve under in Guatemala, is gradually finding the form that made him a Walker Cup player in his amateur days. He is 35th in the rankings with 4,617 points.

Having beaten Darren Clarke in the first round, Graeme McDowell bowed out in the second round of the Accenture World Match Play Championship in California last week. Nevertheless, he is now 51st in the world rankings, just one place out of an automatic invitation to the US Masters next month.

Those in the top 50 at the end of March make it to Augusta, a target for the 25 year-old Ulster man since he turned professional in 2002.

Padraig Harrington, also knocked out in the second round stays at 8th in the world, one place ahead of the new champion David Toms, with Clarke now 15th.

After his disappointment in the match play when he went out tamely to South Africa's Rory Sabbatini, Harrington has crossed America for this week's Ford Championship at Doral in Florida. Darren Clarke, 3rd and 6th in two of his US starts, has returned home to Surrey.

The European Tour is in Dubai this week for the Desert Classic staged over the magnificent Emirates course. Ernie Els is the pre-tournament favourite with the direct Irish interest revolving around Paul McGinley (runner-up to Mark O'Meara last year), Gary Murphy, Peter Lawrie and Damien McGrane.

Meanwhile, Ian Woosnam will almost certainly be confirmed today or tomorrow as captain of the European Ryder Cup team for The K-Club in 2006, thereby enhancing the prospects of an Irishman figuring prominently in his backroom team.

Being a Celt himself, the little Welshman has always had a close affinity with this country and shared many a good evening with the likes of Christy O'Connor Junior, Eamonn Darcy and Des Smyth.

He would also be more aware than, say, Nick Faldo, his only serious rival for the job, of how important a role an Irish vice captain could play, especially when it came to inspiring the vast crowds at The K-Club.

Woosie will get the job essentially because members of the Tournament Players Committee like him more than Faldo, who is paying the price for his rather disparaging and lofty attitude towards many.

I always believed that the ideal man for the job was Bernhard Langer but with the German opting out of the running, Jose-Maria Olazabal showing no interest and the Irish trio dismissed from the equation at a relatively early stage of the campaigning, it resolved into a straight fight between Faldo and Woosnam. Some of the leaks to the press were little more than a joke, most notably when Mark James, the 1999 incumbent in the highly explosive encounter at Brookline, came out in favour of Woosnam. Few need reminding of how James scorned Faldo's letter of support before Brookline and made his derision public.

At much the same time as he publicly admitted that he knew the game was up, Faldo gained support from an unexpected source. Englishman Luke Donald, who looks like being a key member of the team at The K-Club, expressed the belief that he should be captain on the grounds that he knew Nick "a little better". Interesting that.

The Irish trio of O'Connor, Darcy and Smyth were blown out on the grounds that they would be too far removed from the scene and mightn't know the younger players very well. Now here's Donald coming out and saying the very same thing about Ian Woosnam! I also felt that Christy O'Connor Junior was on very solid ground when he complained in this column last week that only grand slam champions were deemed good enough to captain the European team. Langer and now Woosnam qualify in that respect but as "Junior" pointed out, it wasn't a consideration in the era of Bernard Gallagher, Mark James and Sam Torrance.

Sad but true, after all this country has done for the Ryder Cup, it looks like the day is still a long way off when an Irishman will be voted European captain.

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