SINTRA, Portugal -- Scotland's Marc Warren believes he can build on his scintillating Wales Open finish when he lines up at the Estoril Portugal Open this week.
Warren matched the Celtic Manor course record on Sunday with a round of 63, only for it to be broken hours later by Rhys Davies with a 62. Having failed to break 70 in his previous three rounds there, the 8-under-par score came out of the blue, but Warren believes he hasn't had the results his form has merited so far in 2010.
With most big names choosing to skip the first European Tour event staged at Penha Longa in 11 years, the race for the top prize appears wide open.
Warren had the disappointment of failing to qualify for the British Open on Monday, but his spectacular final-day performance in Wales has convinced him a run of fine form could be just around the corner. Celtic Manor will host the Ryder Cup later this year and Warren realistically knows he won't be part of the European team, accepting that one impressive round will not be enough to dazzle Captain Colin Montgomerie.
"I think I'll need probably about another 25 of them to get in the team but you never know, stranger things have happened," Warren said. "I felt I've been playing well the whole year but just have had no finishes at all to speak of. Hopefully this is the start of something good."
After hearing of Warren's round, Montgomerie offered plenty of praise.
"He has real talent, Marc Warren, and that was overdue so that was nice for him and it was nice to see," said Montgomerie. "A 63 with a bogey is a good score. Here's hoping he can show some form."
Where Warren failed in the British Open qualifier at Sunningdale, another Scot, Andrew Coltart, secured his place in the St. Andrews field. Coltart finished in a share of second place -- alongside Montgomerie -- after the 36-hole, one-day event, and is back in action in Portugal. The 40-year-old has had scant success on tour so far this season, but his qualifying effort should provide encouragement this time.
Of the top 50 on the Race to Dubai list, just six are involved this week. Australian Marcus Fraser, winner of the Ballantine's Championship in South Korea earlier this year, is 23rd on the list and features -- as do England's Robert Rock and Chris Wood, who are both seeking their first European Tour victories having threatened to make the breakthrough in recent weeks.
Wood, a contender at each of the past two British Opens, fell away in the final round to finish sixth at the recent BMW PGA Championship but is strongly fancied to do well this week.
"I've been pretty steady for the past few weeks -- I've just been struggling with my putting really," he said. "I've been hitting a lot of fairways and greens and giving myself plenty of chances - now I've got to start taking them more often than not. But we're not far away.
"My game's in good enough shape. It's just a question of waiting for it to happen naturally, instead of putting too much pressure on myself," he added. "Any player who hasn't won before is always desperate for their first victory but, once I've got it under my belt, hopefully the floodgates will open and I'll grow in confidence."
Rock goes out in a group featuring former Ryder Cup star Darren Clarke, while Oliver Fisher, David Horsey and Ignacio Garrido are also pushing to climb up the money list. They currently occupy top-50 positions on the Race to Dubai and, given the absence of so many leading players, there is an obvious chance to gain ground.
Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey, the defending champion, is missing this week due to illness.