Clarke has chance to leapfrog Westwood

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The Independent Online

Two races enter the finishing straight in Madrid today - one to win the European Tour, the other to stay on it.

Two races enter the finishing straight in Madrid today - one to win the European Tour, the other to stay on it.

Following Lee Westwood's victory in the Cisco World Match Play at Wentworth and Spain's repeat success at the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews, the Order of Merit battle resumes with the Turespaña Masters in the Spanish capital. The current leader Westwood is taking a week off, so the spotlight will fall on Darren Clarke's bid for the win which will take him back to the top of the money list with three events to go.

This week's tournament and next week's Italian Open will also decide whether the likes of Russell Claydon, Paul Eales and Mark Davis - all of them tour winners - avoid a return to the qualifying school next month.

"Ryder Cup pressure is the worst pressure, but trying to keep your card is close," said Clarke in commiseration. In 1991, his first season on the circuit, Clarke felt like celebrating when he won £3,451 for 14th place at the European Pro-celebrity tournament at Hoylake. "It may not sound like a lot of money now, but it was worth a lot to me then," he said.

Only 115 players retain tour cards each season and that performance enabled Clarke to finish 112th. "There's a huge amount of pressure. You're trying to keep your job for the following year and, if you come through it, it stands you in really good stead."

Davis currently lies 115th on the money list with earnings of just over £72,000. That would have topped the Order of Merit in the early years of the circuit, but now it may not be enough to keep a place on it. Eales, the winner of the 1994 Extremadura Open in western Spain, lies in 117th place.

Claydon's, however, has been a particularly quick fall from grace. Just three years ago, he was in Europe's top 20, featured in England's Dunhill Cup team and made his breakthrough victory in the BMW International the following season. He has since plunged all the way to 132nd.

The European Tour sets another record this week - with the longest name for a tournament ever. Whoever wins here will be able to call himself the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria Open Turespaña Masters Comunidad de Madrid champion. The previous record was held by the same tournament under a different sponsor four years ago. Then it was the Turespaña Masters Open Comunitat Valenciana Paradores de Turismo.