Ben Coley picks out players to keep a close eye on at the final stage of European Tour Qualifying School.
Last year, a top-class prospect romped to an eight-shot success as Final Stage moved to Lumine, and Callum Shinkwin should have high hopes of following Sam Horsfield's lead.
Some may feel that Shinkwin has already slipped into underachievement, and it's certainly disappointing to see him here little more than a year on from his play-off defeat in a Rolex Series event. But at 25, this quality ball-striker still has time on his side and there was enough to take from his salvage effort at Valderrama.
Two previous visits to Qualifying School have ended in disappointment, but both came at PGA Catalunya and the move to this course is a huge positive for Shinkwin. Not only did he come through second stage qualifying here in 2014, but earlier that year he'd finished second in the Challenge de Catalunya. Given that it was just his second appearance on the Challenge Tour it says much about his comfort levels at the course.
Shinkwin has been striking the ball really well for some time now and looks like the man to beat.
At the 2016 Masters, all eyes were on Bryson DeChambeau as he contended to a point before finishing an excellent 21st. Since then, the American has gone on to prove himself absolutely world-class and he's been the most prolific world-level player on the planet over the last few months.
But there were two amateurs who made the cut, and the performance of the other was equally impressive in its own way. Langasque, long touted as a special talent who could become the best golfer France has produced, defied a third-round 83 to shoot 68 on Sunday, climbing to 35th. Only three players in the field bettered his score.
While DeChambeau's progress since has been ultimately straightforward, despite some fallow months, for Langasque things have been more complicated. Even so, he's managed to contend for a European Tour event despite searching for fitness and form, and finally he was rewarded with his first professional victory in September. That it came on home soil made it all the sweeter.
Ultimately, it was too little, too late. Langasque went on to finish fourth in the Challenge Tour Grand Final, but he needed more. Yet if he arrives here at Lumine in similar form, there's no doubt he has the class and the guts to go and earn his European Tour card. He remains with boundless potential.
Not many players arrive at Final Stage having last teed it up in the WGC-HSBC Champions, but that's the case with Sihwan Kim. The American finished a respectable 46th of 77 in China having previously taken part in the PGA Tour's CIMB Classic; by comparison, the competition here is decidedly ordinary.
The American has been third on the European Tour this season, his best performance to date, and it's only a month or so since he chased home Q School favourite John Catlin in the Yeangder TPC in Taiwan.
Unlike Catlin, who also played the HSBC, he boasts Qualifying School experience and played all 18 rounds in three appearances at PGA Catalunya, which may be less suitable a venue than Lumine. It's that and the fact he held a European Tour card in 2014 which make him a more appealing prospect than his compatriot at the odds.
Here we have a veritable Q School expert, Nixon having secured his playing rights five times from six attempts. Only once, in 2015, has Nixon failed to finish inside the top 25 and even then he fought back from a nightmare start to demonstrate that he's more than capable of performing in this unique environment.
Last month, Nixon missed out on a full European Tour card by a single shot but he wasn't prepared to blame his plight on the bogey he made late on at Valderrama. He told the MEN: "Hand on heart I’m not that gutted because it’s a year’s work, over 22 tournaments, and not just that bogey that’s cost me.
"Over the last 12 events I’ve earned eight times as many points as I did in my first 10. I didn’t play well enough and missed six cuts out of eight and if I’d made one or two more cuts it might not have come down to me having to finish fifth in Spain."
That perspective will serve him well and Nixon is correct in his assessment. He's played much better lately, making eight cuts in nine since the Irish Open, and after a closing 66 to scrape a card here last year should enter the week with hopes of an altogether more straightforward week.
Sky Bet's odds
33/1 Canizares, Shinkwin, Kim
The Bath pro hasn't hit the heights expected of him when turning professional, but one thing he's always done is produce the good at Q School. Canter has been three times previously and boasts form figures of 19-19-12, the latter here at Lumine.
All good things come to an end and this has been an extremely trying year for the 29-year-old, but it wouldn't surprise me if he had another big effort within, especially having drawn inspiration from Steve Surry's Sunshine Tour breakthrough in the build-up.
Canter is also very close to Eddie Pepperell, so he's surrounded by success and there's no doubt he has the game if he can just find it again. Having made the cut at Valderrama, where he needed to win to keep his card, there may once again be light at the end of the tunnel.
Among the class acts here in Spain, Warren yet again found something at the 11th hour at Valderrama - but 11th place was not enough to avoid a third trip to Final Stage. In two previous efforts he's struggled, but the Scot arrives this time on the back of two solid performances and is more than capable of taking care of business as he's tended to do at the Dunhill Links in recent years.
Alongside his heroics in Scotland, Warren can also draw real encouragement from his form in Spain. Over the last five years he's made six starts here and three of them resulted in top-six finishes, with 11th in Andalucia and 28th at PGA Catalunya to throw into that mix. Providing he gets off to a solid start he looks a likely contender to top the leaderboard, with a card well within his grasp.
Here we have a player who featured in the Ryder Cup a decade ago and who won the ultra-valuable Dunhill Links in 2014, one of the most remarkable and indeed memorable successes of the last decade.
After that out-of-the-blue victory, Wilson once again endured a long period of struggle and it's far to say 2018 has been the most consistent season since 2010, when he was a regular contender albeit one still searching for that elusive breakthrough. Although unable to do enough to graduate from the Challenge Tour, Wilson won two of the last 10 events and is rightly bullish when it comes to what this platform could do for his game.
Whether he makes it through Qualifying School or not, the future is bright for a likeable, exceptionally talented player who has been so low that retirement must surely have been on his mind. He's a better, more confident player now than when missing the cut here last year and should be right in the mix come the final round.
Now 30, it's fair to suggest that Winther looks likely to prove the type of player who bounces from top tier to second, unable to quite make an impression on the European Tour but more than capable of earning another chance the following year.
That's been the case so far, with form of MC-16-2 at Qualifying School, and he can take great encouragement from last year's (distant) second behind Horsfield.
Winther improved his score each day at Valderrama, has a European Tour top-10 as recently as August to his name, and has always tended to end the year on a high.
Young Scot hoping to add his name to the growing band of brothers from north of the border who will play on the European Tour next year. Hill, a graduate of Western New Mexico University who qualified for the US Open earlier this year, arrives in great form and there's every chance he's up to the task.
Hill's strength since finding his feet on the Challenge Tour has been his consistency, and it's eight events running now that he's finished 28th or higher - including an impressive win in Northern Ireland. A poor Sunday at the Grand Final aside, he's been a regular feature on leaderboards and averages below 70 since August.
Another of the high-profile names in Spain, Manassero will need to step up considerably on his recent form although 22nd place in the British Masters two starts ago was much more like it.
For a while, he looked like completing a fightback after a nightmare start at Valderrama but ultimately it was another missed cut, his 10th in 13 starts at the end of a year which had started promisingly.
Manassero's success was so immediate that this is his first trip to Qualifying School. Encouragement can be taken from the fact that his first win came in Spain and it'll be fascinating to see how his putting stroke holds up in this uniquely pressurised environment.
One of the stories of Qualifying School last year, having earned his card with birdies at each of the final two holes. That alone is impressive enough, but Thomson's story is much deeper: he survived leukaemia as a child, the prospect of becoming a European Tour player a fading dream at the time. A decade later and there he was, earning his card in some of the most emotional scenes ever witnessed at Qualifying School.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Thomson struggled a little early on his his European Tour career - he was 21 when earning his card, after all. By his own admission, he didn't expect things to happen so quickly and on balance the positives of 2018 outweigh the negatives, particularly as he was able to secure invaluable experience in the mix both in Denmark and the Netherlands, where he finished second and 15th.
In Denmark, he played with Horsfield in the final round and did very little wrong. Although this 6ft9 giant will have to show some subtlety to conquer Lumine, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that he could write another incredible chapter in his remarkable story by succeeding his compatriot.
Talented Australian who also has a back-story, having been involved in a life-threatening car accident five years ago. Since recovering from it, Zunic has hinted at real quality and having won the Queensland Open last week, he arrives at Q School at the very top of his game.
Three wins on the PGA Tour of Australasia demonstrate his talent and Zunic ought to have four, having stumbled with the winning line in sight in the high-class Australian PGA Championship late last year, where Cameron Smith was the beneficiary.
Zunic withdrew after two rounds of his sole previous Qualifying School experience but has come a long way since and can be a factor.
More of a journeyman type than most on this list, Ford came through Qualifying School with fourth place in 2014 - enough to postpone arrangements to become a postman and finally give up on his ambitions to become a European Tour player.
Ford largely struggled at the top table but has shown some positive signs on the Challenge Tour this year, and it was hard not to be impressed with his performance at second stage. Needing final-round fireworks, Ford shot 67, birdieing the last two holes of his round after a gut-wrenching double-bogey, to scrape through - only four players in the field went lower.
Ford can also boast a top-five finish at this course on the Challenge Tour.
Quality young Finn who plays a lot of golf with Kim Koivu, who graduated through the Challenge Tour where Lindell struggled to make an impact. That meant a drop down to Qualifying School and he did well to finish sixth at second stage in Alicante.
Prior to that he'd achieved his best Challenge Tour finish for some time in Ireland so the teenager appears to be finding his game at just the right time. This could be too much, too soon, but he's one to watch with a view to the future.
Speaking of the future, Kristoffer Reitan is another to keep a close eye on. The Norwegian, who qualified for the US Open earlier this year, is among the best amateurs in the world and spends much of his time practicing in Spain, which should prove advantageous here.
Reitan closed with a round of 66 to finish eighth in his section at stage two, an excellent effort under serious pressure, and looks the type to make his mark in the game over the next few years.
For those looking to a Spaniard to dominate Final Stage as Carlos del Moral has done in the past, Canizares looks the most likely candidate. He struggled here last year but was short of fitness at the time and has shown some positive signs since, largely relying on invites.
Last time out he was 16th at his beloved Valderrama and having been fourth on his only other Q School visit back in 2009, he knows what it takes to get inside the cut line and stick around.