reports from Sotogrande
When Colin Montgomerie teed off in the final round of the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews last week, somebody in the crowd yelled: "You're the fridge-freezer." Not very complimentary, given Monty's addiction to junk food, but more original than the American predilection for "You're the man". Whether Big Monty will get the takeaway here or end up with sauerkraut on his face is now food for thought.
The Volvo Masters at Valderrama is El Biggo on the European Tour, the Spanish lottery in a game that started in Dubai in January. Sam Torrance, aged 42, cold sore on his lip, infection on his chest, antibiotics in his bag, wary of alcohol and money on his mind, began the week as the leader in the Order of Merit.
In the marathon duel with Montgomerie, Torrance was several grand ahead of his fellow Scotsman and about pounds 60,000 in front of Bernhard Langer. Volvo have put up pounds 750,000 in prize money here and pounds 500,000 in a bonus pool, which rewards the best or enriches the rich.
The first prize is pounds 125,000 and the same amount is on offer to the player who leads the money list. Only three customers arrived at the last chance saloon with a chance of scooping the jackpot: Swinging Sam, Big Monty and Langer the Accumulator. If the German finishes first or second here, he will become the first member of the European Tour Millionaires Club to amass pounds 5m in prize money.
Langer has so far won pounds 4,881,890 and has gone ahead of Faldo, Seve, Woosie and Monty in the money bags league. Faldo, otherwise engaged in America, and Seve, on a sabbatical, are not in the all-to-play-for scenario here but yesterday in the second round Langer got a move on.
Torrance is the merit leader, Langer the defending champion of the tournament and Monty the marathon winner for the last two years. Yesterday Langer shot 68, Torrance 71 and Monty 72. It leaves Langer at level par for the championship, Monty plus one and Torrance plus two.
Langer's problem is that there are four players ahead of him on the leaderboard: Anders Forsbrand, Alexander Cejka, Ian Woosnam and Jose Coceres. They are in the thick of the battle but not the war.
Langer, with the stabilising company of David Gilford, his Ryder Cup crew member from Crewe, went out 80 minutes before Montgomerie and by the time the fridge-freezer had raised a sweat the cool German had turned a three-shot deficit into a one-shot lead.
Langer went to the turn in 31, four under, and came home in 37. "In the first round I did not have control of the ball," Langer said. "Today I hit a lot more fairways. I'm not too far away. I have a chance."
Monty, draining a can of Coca-Cola Light, had three bogeys on the front nine and went to the turn in 37. He had a solitary birdie coming home, at the notorious 17th, Valderrama's signature hole which has Seve's handwriting all over it. Montgomerie has been an outspoken critic of the revamped 17th but yesterday he proved that it is not quite the hell hole he imagined it to be: drive, three-iron on to the green from 215 yards, two putts from 20 feet, birdie four, thank you very much. He still doesn't like the hole.
"That was as easy as the course will ever play," Montgomerie said. "I missed a good chance. It was an indifferent round...nothing much happened." He equates Valderrama, the Ryder Cup venue for 1997, to a 28-mile walk. "Fourteen miles to go," Monty said. "I can still win the tournament from here."
Torrance believes the same thing. "I played beautifully," he said. "I hardly missed a fairway. I said to my caddie in the middle of the round: 'I haven't started thinking about winning this tournament.' Maybe I shouldn't have said it. Then I made two bogeys."
Valderrama is a marathon in itself and the first player out of here was the Irishman Ronan Rafferty. Flashback to the Volvo Masters in 1989: 'Ronan Rafferty's season ended in triumph as he held off the challenge of defending champion Nick Faldo for a victory which assured him of the Vardon Trophy as winner of the Order of Merit.'
On Thursday Rafferty shot 84, 13 over par, finishing with a nine at the 17th and what he thought was a six at the 18th. In fact it was a seven and he was disqualified for signing for the wrong score. Yesterday he went round as a marker and then walked into the courtesy car office to get a Volvo to Malaga airport. Disqualified, and therefore last of the 54 qualifiers for this event, his reward was pounds 3,500.