Golf: Volvo Masters - Monty expects a battle royal

Westwood and Clarke are ready to steal the crown from the Queen's special guest
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The Independent Online
COLIN MONTGOMERIE has other things on his mind than winning a sixth Order of Merit title. Next Wednesday he goes to Buckingham Palace to take tea with the Queen and collect his MBE. And on Monday he is recording an episode of They Think It's All Over.

"That'll be fun," he said. "Or it might not be. If you accept that the odd joke is going to spill over, that's fine. It's a programme I've always enjoyed watching."

Montgomerie has also accepted that by the time he reaches the verbal jousting, his record of never going backwards on the Order of Merit may be over. "I can't be No 1 forever," he admitted.

"Five in a row has been incredible but the more you win, the less it means. If it happens to be six and I match Seve's record I'll be delighted. But if someone else wins it under the pressure of knowing what they have to do, then I'll be the first to congratulate them."

His two rivals are Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke but any thought that Montgomerie is about to stand aside is misleading. The Scot leads Westwood by pounds 45,265, similar circumstances to a year ago when Bernhard Langer was his nearest challenger.

"It was the same situation as last year so I don't know why there is so much more interest this time," Monty said, clearly thinking his inquisition was being over-prolonged. When it was pointed out that Langer, a former Order of Merit winner, was genuinely not bothered but that this time it could be a case of a Brit taking over from a Brit, he looked somewhat miffed. A 63 in the pro-am gave him victory by a shot over Clarke.

All three contenders are taking the line that their priority is a victory in the Volvo Masters. Should Westwood retain his title on a much improved Montecastillo course, there would be no need for either slide rule or supercomputer.

Westwood can still win the Vardon Trophy if he is second and Monty is no better than third; third and Monty is no better than 12th; and fourth if Monty is no better than 45th. Clarke needs to win and hope Westwood is third or worse and Montgomerie is ninth or worse.

Despite a sudden slump in August, Monty has retain his position from fewer tournaments by maintaining a remarkable consistency. "If I do win again, I'll say that I have had to improve again to stay No 1. I've had my best matchplay win at the Andersen Consulting and my best strokeplay win at the PGA so I must have improved."

For once, Montgomerie might be perfectly happy for Ernie Els to take the first prize of pounds 166,000 or even for Nick Faldo to have a surprise return to form. What is generally accepted is that this is the last European money race as currently constituted. From next year, the Volvo Ranking will reflect performance by European tour players in the bigger tournaments around the world by including the US Open and the USPGA as well as the three new World Championship events.

Seve Ballesteros has described the decision as "ridiculous" and what irks the rank and file is not just that they will not be eligible for the new tournaments but that the prize money is so great at pounds 3m each - three times as much as that on offer at the biggest of the regular events - that the money table will be distorted to a absurd degree.

But Montgomerie sees it as a natural evolution. "In time there will not be a European ranking as such, every event will be towards a world ranking," he said. "Tennis has had it for a long time and we are getting there. The game is becoming more global. European golf is on the up and the more we play against the best - like Tiger and O'Meara at Wentworth - the better."

The answer for those not assured of their qualification for the new tournaments was provided by Faldo. The six-times major winner is on the cusp of making the top 64 for the Matchplay Championship in San Diego next February having fallen to 62nd in the world. "When you are not in something there is only one thing you can do - play better," Faldo said.

Faldo quit his long-term coach, David Leadbetter, last month and is working with Chip Koehlke, the head pro at his own Faldo Golf Institute in Florida. "It is still early days but at least we're going in the right direction. I just need to play more events and get some confidence and some feedback to trust what I'm doing."

The 41-year-old is planning a heavy schedule at the start of next year to make sure he is in a position to contend for the US Masters next April. "I honestly believe that I will be back contending for majors again. There are 20 majors over the next five years and I've got to believe that there is one in there for me."

THE TOP THREE'S MERIT MARKS

MONTGOMERIE WESTWOOD CLARKE

Position 1 2 3

Money pounds 790,077 pounds 714,811 pounds 616,867

Tournaments 16 18 17

Wins 3 4 1

Top 10s 9 9 8

Missed cuts 3 0 2

Stroke average 69.74 69.84 69.56

Driving accuracy 72.9% 71.7% 68.9%

Driving distance 278.5yds 274.9 279.3

Greens in regulation (gir) 76.2% 73.5% 75.7%

Putts per gir 1.78 1.77 1.73

Putts per round 30.2 29.4 29.6

Sand saves 55.3% 47.3% 58.6%

World ranking 6 8 25

THE MONTGOMERIE YEARS

1993

1 COLIN MONTGOMERIE pounds 613,682

2 Nick Faldo pounds 558,738

3 Ian Woosnam pounds 501,353

4 Bernhard Langer pounds 469,569

5 Sam Torrance pounds 421,328

6 Costantino Rocca pounds 403,866

1994

1 COLIN MONTGOMERIE pounds 762,719

2 Bernhard Langer pounds 635,483

3 Seve Ballesteros pounds 590,101

4 Jose Maria Olazabal pounds 516,107

5 Miguel Jimenez pounds 437,403

6 Vijay Singh pounds 364,313

1995

1 COLIN MONTGOMERIE pounds 835,051

2 Sam Torrance pounds 755,706

3 Bernhard Langer pounds 655,854

4 Costantino Rocca pounds 516,320

5 Michael Campbell pounds 400,977

6 Alexander Cejka pounds 308,114

1996

1 COLIN MONTGOMERIE pounds 875,146

2 Ian Woosnam pounds 650,423

3 Robert Allenby pounds 532,143

4 Costantino Rocca pounds 482,585

5 Mark McNulty pounds 463,847

6 Lee Westwood pounds 428,693

1997

1 COLIN MONTGOMERIE pounds 798,947

2 Bernhard Langer pounds 692,398

3 Lee Westwood pounds 588,718

4 Darren Clarke pounds 537,409

5 Ian Woosnam pounds 503,562

6 Ignacio Garrido pounds 411,479

Montgomerie: Five in a row

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