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Nick Dougherty picks out five stars to look out for on the European Tour in 2017

Eddie Pepperell followed his opening 64 with a 76 and now looks likely to lose his card

As the European Tour action resumes this week with Rory McIlroy headlining the BMW SA Open, Nick Dougherty picks out five players he expects to make an impact this season...

Jordan Smith

He topped the Challenge Tour rankings last season and has obviously shown he has a lot of game. He appears to have settled quite quickly on the European Tour and played nicely in Hong Kong, earning his first cheque of the new campaign with a T36 finish.

To win the Road to Oman takes a full season of solid performances. It's not like earning your card through Qualifying School, where you can have six good days and emerge a winner. It's always tough to predict how Q-School graduates will fare on the main Tour.

Jordan Smith of England poses with the Road to Oman rankings trophy
Image: Jordan Smith played well throughout the year to win the Road to Oman

Smith was obviously good all year and managed a number of big performances. Two wins, six other top-10s and only four cuts missed is a commendable effort. To be that consistent and play to a high level over a season shows your mettle, and proves that you are good enough to be on the European Tour.

Can he win this season? I think he possible can because his confidence will be very high. It's a big step up and each tournament now will have a different feel, but Jordan will be relatively comfortable.

He's got a great game and he's another very promising English talent, and he will look to build on what was a remarkable year for him in 2016.

Bernd Ritthammer

He was runner-up to Smith on the Challenge Tour rankings last season after winning the final event in Oman - his third win of an impressive year.

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From what I've seen, he also has a good all-round game and he got off to a flying start to his European Tour campaign with a tie for 11th place at the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

Bernd Ritthammer of Germany poses with the trophy after winning the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final
Image: Bernd Ritthammer won three times on the Challenge Tour in 2016

I don't care what Tour you're playing on, winning is winning and it takes a certain mindset to do that in the professional ranks. And to win three times in one season, you don't see that very often on any tour.

Yes, the standards are lower than the European Tour, but you can only beat the people you're up against in the field and Bernd clearly has that winning calibre. And, like Smith, he'll start 2017 with a lot of confidence.

We see the top players week in, week out on Sky Sports, but there are always a few unheralded players who we don't know much about that have the ability to win anywhere, and Ritthammer could be one of those stars this year.

Nathan Kimsey

His performance in winning the European Tour Qualifying School was amazing. Kimsey became only the second player since the launch of Q-School to win outright having competed in all three stages.

In the six-round final stage at PGA Catalunya, he only broke 70 once. But that was an incredible nine-under 61 in the fourth round in which he made two eagles in a back-nine 29. That is some achievement under that pressure, and on a course that is not easy.

GIRONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 17:  Tournament champion Nathan Kimsey of England is presented with his trophy by Vice Chairman of the European Tour, Angel Gallar
Image: Nathan Kimsey came through all three stages of Qualifying School, and won the final stage in Spain

I really like his attitude, and he's another that has got his 2017 season off to a solid start as he made the cut at both Leopard Creek and in Hong Kong. It's vitally important for these rookies to get some confidence out of these early events. If you tee it up in your first tournament and shoot a pair of 80s, that can have a huge impact on the rest of your season.

You could get to mid-March and find you are hundreds of thousands of euros behind, and it can feel like a sprint finish to retain your card. It's easy to get washed away and you see it every year on Tour. Highly-talented young players can be a little slow out of the blocks and it's an uphill battle for the rest of the year.

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It's tough mentally, but it looks like Kimsey has what it takes to have a solid year, judging by his first two outings. Winning the Q-School is a great achievement, especially as he narrowly scraped through the first stage.

He saved his best for last and that's a good sign for Nathan going forward, and that gets him my vote of approval for the year ahead.

Eddie Pepperell

I was one of many of predicted a breakthrough year for Eddie last season, but he had to go through the rigours of Qualifying School to retain his card.

There is something about Pepperell that really appeals. I played with him and Tyrrell Hatton in the first two rounds of the British Masters at Woburn, and when I was asked which one of them I was most impressed with, I honestly thought Eddie had more in the tank.

WATFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12:  Eddie Pepperell of England prepares to putt on the second green during the Hero Pro-Am at The Grove on October 12, 2016 in
Image: Eddie Pepperell had to go through Q-School to retain his card for 2017

That prediction has proved wrong, so far, but I still believe Eddie can achieve similar heights to those that Tyrrell managed in his superb 2016 campaign.

Pepperell is a great personality and a very deep thinker, which can be more of a hinderance than an asset when you're on the golf course! It's very easy to get "too involved" in many ways, but if Eddie can let his natural golfing intelligence take over, he can have a big year in 2017.

Eddie Pepperell of England
Image: Pepperell has a great personality as well as a sound golf game

He has a really good all-round golf game, I just don't see any glaring weaknesses at all. Maybe last season's disappointment was the kick up the rear-end he needed. Eddie's work ethic is not in question, and we all know he is too good a player to be going through Q-School.

I still feel he is on the brink of something really special, and coming through Q-School as solidly as he did when the pressure was really on should spur him on. He showed a lot of strength and resilience, and I think he will win on the European Tour this season.

Thomas Detry

Judging on reputation, the general view is that Detry has a phenomenal future ahead of him. I hadn't seen much of him before the Alfred Dunhill Championship, but he was hugely impressive at Leopard Creek and started his season with a third place finish.

Detry earned his card as one of the top 16 players on the Challenge Tour last year, playing in only 14 events and not missing a cut until he played the KLM Open on the European Tour.

Thomas Detry has garnered a big reputation on the Challenge Tour
Image: Thomas Detry has garnered a big reputation on the Challenge Tour

The young Belgian really caught the eye with his incredible win in the Bridgestone Challenge at Heythrop Park in August, when he opened with a 60 and closed with a 63 to crush the field by 12 shots on 29 under par.

Nicholas Colsaerts and Thomas Pieters both speak very highly of their young compatriot, and having got off to the ideal start in South Africa, he is surely destined for bigger things in the near future.

Retaining his card should not be an issue for Detry this season, it seems to be more of a case of how long it takes him to establish himself as one of the leading players on the European Tour. His swing is good, his attitude is good, and he'll benefit hugely from the backing of Colsaerts and Pieters.

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