Golf: Westwood aims to loosen Monty's grip

Andy Farrell, in Co Kildare, looks at the race to be Europe's best as the big guns set their sights on the season's run-in
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"THE SEASON'S final major, glory's last chance," was the way last week's 80th USPGA Championship was billed on television in America. Mark O'Meara, with a double portion, Lee Janzen and Vijay Singh having scooped up the 1998's quota of glory, it is back to the day job. There are still plenty of dollops of dosh to be handed out, not least at the K Club on Sunday.

Just west of Dublin, along the Irish equivalent of the M4, the club is the pride and joy of Dr Michael Smurfit, of the Jefferson Smurfit Group, and features a course designed by Arnold Palmer. It is a front-runner to stage the Ryder Cup when it comes to Ireland in 2005 and hosting the European Open and putting up a purse of pounds 1.25m should help their cause.

The prize fund, a record for the European Tour outside the Open with a first cheque of pounds 208,300, should also boost the claims of those involved in the race for the No 1 spot on the money list. Also known as the Order of Merit and, to the commercially aware, the Volvo Ranking, the actual prize at stake is the Vardon Trophy and has sat for the last five years on the sideboard of Colin Montgomerie's living room.

Lee Westwood, with three victories, currently heads the money list by pounds 122,000 from Darren Clarke, with Montgomerie a further pounds 30,000 behind in third. Someone else could jump into contention by winning the huge pot on offer this week, although a win for the visiting Payne Stewart would not upset Clarke if he cannot win. For most of the season, no one had their sights on the money title, but that has changed now the majors have come and gone.

"It would be daft not to have a real go now," said Westwood. The leading three all finally rejected initial thoughts of staying on in America after the USPGA for the International and the World Series tournaments and have effectively cleared their schedules for the run-in. The next seven weeks could be decisive but there is then a gap until the season's finale at Montecastillo in Spain at the end of October.

"It is leading up to an exciting finish and it would be great to go to the Volvo Masters with four or five guys in with a chance as opposed to Monty dominating all the time," Clarke said. "Monty has been there before and we all know what he is capable of if he turns on the style. He will be the guy to push whoever is leading down the stretch."

The Scot is considered the man to beat, with Westwood adding: "I don't have a figure in mind that I need to get to - just pounds 1 more than Monty will do me." But Montgomerie, who set majors rather than a sixth successive Vardon Trophy as his goal at the start of the year, is still not publicly leading the race. "That's been done," he said. "Hopefully, I've nothing more to prove in Europe.

"I tend to take more notice of my position in the world rankings than the European rankings." Unfortunately, that does not make pleasant reading: down from a career high of second two years ago to seventh. "That's going in the wrong direction," he conceded.

His collapse at the USPGA, when he was lying second after 36 holes, to finish 44th, has prompted action, however. "My long game was never so bad," he said. "You can't aim at the pin when you don't know whether the ball is going right or left."

As soon as Montgomerie left the course on Sunday, he phoned his old coach, Bill Ferguson. The pair have not worked together since Monty missed the cut in the Open and the USPGA in 1996, apart from a brief "fix" at the Ryder Cup last year. "That seemed to work and hopefully we can work together on a more permanent basis," Montgomerie said.

The reasons for the split in the first place were never obvious, least of all to Ferguson, who first taught Montgomerie to play the game as a child in Yorkshire. But the results were swift. "Bill spotted the problem right away. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than it was and I'm excited about playing with a fade again. A fade is the only safe, risk-free way of golf at this level, especially when it is your job. As the saying goes, you can talk to a fade but a hook doesn't listen."

It was a hooked tee shot that cost Montgomerie victory in a play-off for the Irish Open last month, a tournament where he had stated that he was in no need of a coach. His experiences since, which included another missed cut at the Open, have persuaded him otherwise. "Although it worked OK, then, it was still fragile. Now, it's getting more solid."

Down at the other end of the money list, Justin Rose plays his third tournament as a professional. He is still looking to make his first cut and has only four other events in which to try and earn his Tour card, something that will take in the region of pounds 55,000.

EUROPEAN MONEY LIST

EUROPEAN ORDER OF MERIT

THE RACE AT THE TOP

Events Money

1 Lee Westwood (Eng) 12 pounds 590,385

2 Darren Clarke (N Irl) 12 pounds 472,223

3 Colin Montgomerie (Sco) 10 pounds 442,057

4 Ernie Els (SA) 8 pounds 386,759

5 Thomas Bjorn (Den) 14 pounds 378,005

6 Jose Maria Olazabal (Sp) 13 pounds 353,543

7 Patrik Sjoland (Swe) 18 pounds 353,306

8 Stephen Leaney (Aus) 15 pounds 260,435

9 Andrew Coltart (Sco) 17 pounds 249,250

10 Stephen Allan (Aus) 16 pounds 245,339

11 David Carter (Eng) 18 pounds 233,055

12 Peter Baker (Eng) 16 pounds 216,129

13 Ian Woosnam (Wal) 11 pounds 212,651

14 Gary Orr (Sco) 19 pounds 190,391

15 David Howell (Eng) 19 pounds 184,550

THE RAT RACE AT THE BOTTOM

Only the top 116 players retains their Tour cards for next year

116 Fabrice Tarnaud (Fr) 18 pounds 35,932

235 Justin Rose (Eng) 2 pounds 0

Final player to retain his card last year

116 Rolf Muntz (Neth) 27 pounds 50,564

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