Clarke's final drive for the line

Click to follow
The Independent Online

From all the jockeying on the penultimate day of the penultimate tournament of the European season Darren Clarke was the player to emerge in a strong position. Although a first prize of £333,330 is available today for the winner of the Volvo Masters, few certainties will become clear on the order of merit, such are the riches on offer next Sunday at Valderrama.

From all the jockeying on the penultimate day of the penultimate tournament of the European season Darren Clarke was the player to emerge in a strong position. Although a first prize of £333,330 is available today for the winner of the Volvo Masters, few certainties will become clear on the order of merit, such are the riches on offer next Sunday at Valderrama.

With Tiger Woods sure to dispute the biggest cheque, Clarke can help himself no end by repeating his victory in the Volvo Masters in 1998, wiping out Lee Westwood's £47,000 lead at the head of the order of merit and then some. Clarke, after a 68, starts the final round tied at 11 under par with Sweden's Pierre Fulke, whose putt-ing has been sublime all week.

Australia's Stephen Leaney is one behind but Westwood, after a poor start, is lurking at six under after a 65. But Colin Montgomerie crashed off the leaderboard after a 75 to be eight behind. At the start of the week, the seven-time European No 1 was bullish about winning the last two events of the season, but yesterday he admitted: "I have been resigned to losing the order of merit for a couple of months."

Most departments of Montgomerie's game were poor and although he did not have any luck, his patience was worst of all, as various marshals and photographers found out. It cannot have helped playing alongside Clarke, who holed from 40 feet at the second hole.

Clarke was three under for the first seven holes. Another birdie followed at the fifth when he holed a bunker shot but he rated his sand recovery at the next, which he left a foot away, even better. He survived a mid-round wobble to eagle the 16th, holing from 30 feet, and sank a 15-foot birdie putt at the last.

"I lost a bit of momentum but told myself to stay patient," Clarke said. "That's how I have been all week. I don't know what is going on. If I could bottle it, I'd make a fortune."

Westwood, who had opened with a 76, was threatening the course record of 63 held by Clarke and Per-Ulrik Johansson when he came to the last tee. His drive found the water on the left but the Englishman was distracted at the top of his backswing by a spectator.

"To save me getting a fine, I would only say that I was less than impressed," he said. "I had already told him to put his camera away and to stand still but he decided to wander off. He's got an arm in a cast and he's lucky it's not both arms. I didn't say anything, just gave him a Seve glare, the one that makes you tremble and crawl into the nearest hole."

Westwood put his third shot into the back bunker and faced a perilous recovery from a downslope with the water behind. He came out to eight feet and holed the putt for a bogey. Earlier, he made four birdies on the front nine and two more coming home plus an eagle at the 12th. That was set up by a driver from the deck from 264 yards which finished two and a half feet from the hole.

"Obviously, I'm in a better position than on Thursday," he said. "I am working hard on my swing and today proved I've got ability now to shoot a 65 even when I'm not ripping it."

Next year the Volvo Masters will return to its customary position as the climax to the season. Its thunder is considerably stolen by the £3m AmEx World Championship which is closing out the season on both the European and US Tours. But after complaints from the Americans, it will switch not just its venue to St Louis but its date to September in 2001.

There seem to be even more withdrawals than a year ago with a number of Woods's rivals failing to accompany the world No 1 to Spain. David Duval heads a list of absentees includ-ing Hal Sutton, Tom Lehman, Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink, John Huston, Loren Roberts, Paul Azinger, Notah Begay, Fred Couples and Greg Norman.

Woods will defend the AmEx title he won last year by beating Miguel Angel Jimenez in a play-off. The extra hole was only necessary as Woods, in one of the best rounds seen in Europe, suffered a triple-bogey eight at the 17th when a well-struck third shot to a treacherous pin position ended up rolling back into the pond.

Comments