Golf: Montgomerie set to take order

The champagne is on ice but there is still a lot of work to do today. Such were the conflicting feelings of Colin Montgomerie after the third Volvo Masters. Even by scoring no better than a one-under 71 yesterday, Montgomerie strengthened his grip on a record fifth order of merit title. What he scores today could be irrelevant.

Unless Bernhard Langer finishes in the top four, or Darren Clarke wins, Monty cannot be knocked from his No 1 perch even if he fails to break 100 in the final round. Far be it for a German to throw in the towel, but neither scenario looks a likely prospect and Langer knows it all too well.

With a strong wind making the Montecastillo course a far tougher proposition than earlier in the week, it could have been as bad a day for Montgomerie as Friday, when his second shot at the 16th ended out of bounds in a field and he took an eight. "I'm not the best wind player, believe it or not," Montgomerie said.

Actually, that is all too believable, since he has struggled to break 80 in drafty conditions at The Oxfordshire and Carnoustie in recent seasons. Langer, winner at the former venue last May, and Clarke, raised on a links at Portrush, are acknowledged wind players.

But neither was on his game, both dropping to 15th place, Langer after a 74 and Clarke, who started the day one outside the lead, struggling to a birdie-free 77. Clarke was 10 behind the leader Lee Westwood, while Langer is seven shots outside the second place he needs to rule Montgomerie out completely.

"I played really very badly," Langer said. "I don't think I still have the opportunity to beat Monty on the order of merit, even if I play very well tomorrow."

Montgomerie said: "It's looking better than when I nearly missed my fifth shot at the 16th yesterday." There his pitch from the deep rough was fluffed into a bunker from where he took three to get down. That put him in Montefumer mode. "No one in the top 10 in the world accepts an eight," he said. "It is unacceptable. Of course it is, it has to be."

If Friday saw Montgomerie as his worst, he was near his best 24 hours later as he praised the man at the top of the leaderboard. While the No 1 spot on the money list is beyond him, Westwood is intent on claiming his first European win of the season at the last chance.

Westwood's 68 put him 16 under par and gave him a three-stroke lead over Padraig Harrington. Jose Maria Olazabal, who was the runner-up in the Turespana Masters here in 1994 when Carl Mason won for the first time at the 456th time of asking, is one stroke further back.

The lead had been as much as four until the Harrington finished eagle, birdie, birdie to briefly cut the Englishman's advantage to one. But the 24-year-old from Worksop immediately responded by birdieing the 16th and 17th. Today he has a chance to erase the memories of narrow defeats to the handy trio of Montgomerie, Langer and Olazabal earlier in the season.

"I've always rated Lee," Montgomerie said. "Three years ago when Nick Faldo left we were looking for good young players and there weren't any. Now there is Westwood, Clarke, Bjorn, Garrido and Harrington. It is good for the European tour."

How Montgomerie splits his time between the Europe and America next year will be revealed tomorrow. But while he will certainly make a heavy commitment to the States, it will be far from the zero-option over here. "However many tournaments I play in Europe, I hope I can win a couple of them and be in with a chance of a sixth title."