Gold: Westwood a whisker ahead

Volvo Masters: O'Malley takes share of lead as Order of Merit rivals play out a personal battle
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IN LINE with the high temperatures at Montecastillo, the Volvo Masters has come to the boil nicely with not just the tournament but the money list title all to be played for on the last day of the season.

Victory in the tournament for either Colin Montgomerie or Lee Westwood would give them their sixth or first Order of Merit titles respectively and both are perfectly poised, although Westwood's birdie at the last gave him a share of the lead with Peter O'Malley.

For the second day running Westwood did not drop a shot and his 67 took the 25-year-old to 11 under par alongside the Australian. But Montgomerie also birdied the last for the third day running to leave himself only one stroke behind.

Should the position stay the same today, whether Westwood won a play- off or not he would end the Scot's incredible run of never going backwards on the Order of Merit but much can happen over the final 18 holes. Andrew Coltart, after a 65, lies fourth with Darren Clarke, the third man in the money race, one further back at eight under.

Westwood, who won here 12 months ago to spark his extraordinary year, is looking for his ninth win in that time and his fifth of this European season. Over the opening holes, nothing seemed to be happening for him but then he made four birdies in six holes around the turn and sank a 12-foot putt at the last.

"I always aim to be the best player in the field each week and that means winning the tournament," Westwood said. "To win the Order of Merit means you have been the best player over the year.

"I've always had great respect for Greg Norman because he was the world No 1 over such a long period of time and for Monty to win the Order of Merit for five years is a great achievement.

"I don't think people outside golf, or even the press, realise quite how much of an achievement that is. Until you know how hard it is to win it once, you don't know how hard it is to win five times."

Second or third place could take him to the top of the money list, depending on what Montgomerie does. The Scot made five birdies in nine holes from the fourth but bogeyed the 13th and dropped another shot when he duffed a chip at 17 before he claimed his now regulation three at the last with an eight-iron to nine feet.

"That was a bloody good effort," said Montgomerie, who had to hole out as darkness fell because of an earlier 95-minute fog delay. "It was so important to follow Lee in. I thought it was really, really good. I'm very proud of myself. I said to myself on the tee that I'd birdied the hole for the last two days, I might as well do it again. The rest of it was by-the-by but the last hole was a bloody good effort."

What made Montgomerie even more pleased was the fact that he would be playing in the group immediately in front of Westwood this afternoon, the reverse of the situation for the last two days.

"Now he's going to be watching me and I'm not going anywhere. He will have to watch my birdies go in. The pins are going to be tucked away and it is going to be an advantage to be first. I'm keyed up to play a good round tomorrow. I'll never forget having to play the back nine in one under in 1995 to beat Sam Torrance and having to hole a four-footer to beat him by one stroke. It could come down to something similar tomorrow."

With the main two contenders so high on the leaderboard, Clarke's chances of being the European No 1 have receded if not been expunged. But the Irishman's goal of winning the tournament, his minimum requirement, improved when he went to the turn in 32 - only for him then to come home in level par.

"It was the usual story with me of having lots of chances but the putter cooling on the back nine and then taking a silly bogey at the 17th," Clarke said. "It's frustrating because I could have had a really low round and been in even better position."

Coltart, a team-mate of Westwood and Clarke in the Andrew Chandler management stable, is also the future brother-in-law of Westwood, who marries Laura Coltart next year. But the 28-year-old Scot is not concerned about any sisterly reprisals should he prevent Westwood winning the Order of Merit. "I couldn't care less," Coltart said. "I am in it for myself and he is in it for himself."

What nobody wants, however, is a last day washout like last year when Westwood took the title over 54 holes. To prevent a recurrence - and it has worked so far this week - the organiser-director, Therese Verbreyt, took 14 dozen eggs to the Convent of Santa Clara earlier this week as an offering for the nuns to pray for dry and sunny weather.