Clarke's mind is on the money

Tanaka's rise from obscurity overshadowed by leading lights trying to top the Order of Merit
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The Independent Online

Hidemichi Tanaka, a little- known Japanese golfer, heads the leaderboard at the American Express Championship here going into today's final round, but he hardly tops the bill. He has only a minor role in an even bigger drama that is unfolding down the field.

Hidemichi Tanaka, a little- known Japanese golfer, heads the leaderboard at the American Express Championship here going into today's final round, but he hardly tops the bill. He has only a minor role in an even bigger drama that is unfolding down the field.

Tanaka has been the surprise package this week. He is playing in his first world golf championship and, on Friday, he said his main goal here was to get Tiger Woods' autograph. He might collect a bit more than that - like the $1m prize the world No 1 was expected to win before the tournament began.

Tanaka fired a two-under-par 70 yesterday and leads by one over Canada's Mike Weir and the 1989 Open champion, Mark Calcavecchia. The third- round leader, Nick Price, is tied for fourth with Tiger Woods after a two-over-par 74. Woods got into contention yesterday with a second successive three-under-par 69.

Despite Tanaka's surprise lead, all eyes are on Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood as they fight it out for the honour of taking over Colin Montgomerie's mantle of European No 1. Westwood has the edge heading into today's final round. Montgomerie is all but out of the race after a one-over-par 73 yesterday. He needs to shoot in the low 60s today to have any chance.

Westwood is second behind Clarke on the European Order of Merit, which will be decided at the conclusion of this event. He needs to finish the tournament with £63,000 more prize-money than Clarke to overhaul the Ulsterman at the top of the table.

Yesterday Westwood announced in no uncertain terms that he has no plans to let Clarke steal the title he so richly deserves, after firing a four-under-par 68 over the tough Valderrama layout. Westwood declared his intentions early yesterday with birdies at the first two holes to move to two under par. He also had an eagle at the par-five seventh hole, and birdies at the eighth and 15th holes, but he also had bogeys at the sixth and 18th.

"I've given myself a great chance," Westwood said. "I've put myself right in there and if I finish second or third then I've got a great chance."

Although the Westwood-Clarke Order of Merit race is the main point of interest here as far as the European Tour is concerned, Westwood is not too happy about it. As far as he is concerned the whole thing is a royal pain in the posterior.

"Everybody's making more of it than I do," he said. "It's just a pain in the backside all this talk about side issues, and people try to make a fuss of other things, which is a distraction." Westwood was not the only player fed up with all the talk about the Order of Merit. Colin Montgomerie was another.

"Don't mention the Order of Merit, please, okay," said Montgomerie after his round yesterday. "Please, I've had enough. You can understand. We'll talk about it tomorrow. If you just leave it for a day that'll be great."

At one point Montgomerie was within four shots of the lead, but dropped three shots on the last five holes to spoil his card. He needs to shoot in the low 60s today to win the tournament and have any chance of winning the Order of Merit for the eighth straight season.

The Scotsman struggled on the greens yesterday, just as he has done all season. "I just didn't hole a putt," he admitted. "My longest putt was a return putt on the eighth, which was two foot, and that was the longest putt I holed. My two birdies were both tap-ins at the two par-fives. I just didn't putt at all. I didn't hole anything. Nothing at all. My putter went cold and that was that really."

Clarke, meanwhile, went backwards. He started the day at level par, tied with Westwood, and went to the turn in one under par after a birdie two at the third. However, three dropped shots on the back nine made his task all the harder today. The Dungannon man posted a score of two-over-par 74 to end the round six shots behind Westwood.

New Zealand's Michael Campbell became a factor in the Order of Merit race when he fired a three-under-par 69 yesterday to get to four under, just four shots off the lead. Like Montgomerie, he needs to win the tournament today to win the title, and then hope Westwood finishes worse than second and Clarke worse than third.

Woods finally got the better of the treacherous 17th hole yesterday. The world No 1 has found the water there the last three times he has played the hole. Yesterday he hit an eight-iron on to the green from 180 yards and then removed his cap and bowed to the crowd.

Yesterday's score was Woods' 50th consecutive round of par or better. If he wins today he will notch up his 10th win of the season, and become the first golfer in history to earn over $10m in one season.

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