Montgomerie counts the pennies

From the bodegas of Jerez, only the leading third of Europe's top players at the Volvo Masters yesterday made the hour and half journey to the cork trees of Valderrama. Two-thirds of the field of 60-odd at the American Express World Championship will arrive from further afield, mostly from Houston where Tiger Woods won for the seventh time in the States and eighth worldwide.

From the bodegas of Jerez, only the leading third of Europe's top players at the Volvo Masters yesterday made the hour and half journey to the cork trees of Valderrama. Two-thirds of the field of 60-odd at the American Express World Championship will arrive from further afield, mostly from Houston where Tiger Woods won for the seventh time in the States and eighth worldwide.

With a second US money list title already sewn up, Woods can do Colin Montgomerie a favour by winning the $1 million first prize. Montgomerie almost has a seventh European Order of Merit crown secured, but not quite. His lead of £410,900 over Sergio Garcia would look pretty handy but for the fact that £610,000 is available to the winner this week.

Should Garcia or Lee Westwood win, Montgomerie would have to finish second to retain his precious No 1 claim. Should Retief Goosen, one of the joint runners-up behind Miguel Angel Jimenez in the Volvo Masters on Sunday, win, then Montgomerie would probably still have to be in the top-eight. Of course, there are two ways for Montgomerie to decrease the stress level: by winning the title himself, or have someone else, such as Woods, take care of the big money.

Although Montgomerie, the world No 3, has stated his main aim is to overtake David Duval as the world No 2, the American's absence from Valderrama is irrelevant to the Scot. "I'm not thinking about overtaking David now," he said. "I've got my own agenda. I'll go out and try to win the tournament myself. That's what I'll be trying to do."

As for Woods, though, Montgomerie was sincere in his praise for the world No 1. He dismissed the idea that Woods might struggle on the tightly tree-lined course as he did during an unhappy Ryder Cup in 1997. "The way Tiger is playing, he is dangerous on any course, anywhere," Monty said. "He is the hot favourite to win this week. He is so far ahead of anyone else in the world of golf."

Yet Montgomerie, who finished 16th at Montecastillo on Sunday for his worst result in Europe since May, is happier to have to defend his crown at Valderrama than anywhere else. "I'm hitting the ball fine but last week was one of those courses where hitting the ball straight was not rewarded because the rough was non-existent.

"The whole tournament was a bit flat because of what happened at the start of the week [the death of Payne Stewart] and knowing that even if I won, it would not have made any difference." Of course, the whole idea of having a huge prize to play for in the last event was to keep the money list title alive to the very end, which is unfortunate only for Montgomerie. But his point that this week's event distorts the whole season is well made.

In contrast to the US tour, where the purses have increased significantly this year, this week's first prize is almost double that at the Open Championship and nearly three-times that of even the bigger European tour events.

"This week is all or nothing," said Monty, who has won five tour events this season. "It is like the Japanese Grand Prix being worth 30 points. But this is the seventh year in a row that I have ended the Volvo Masters leading the Order of Merit and I have never had such a big lead. I am looking forward to the challenge of Valderrama. Accuracy off the tee is important and I've done well there before."

As for the absence of Duval, and others such as Mark O'Meara and Fred Couples, Monty said: "This is an individual game. If you want to play, you can play. It is great that we have the opportunity to play for this amount of money. David has had a tough year and can't catch Tiger. I can understand that Valderrama is a long way to come when the money is not that much bigger than they played for at the Tour Championship."

However, there is little doubt Montgomerie is slightly irked at the concept of the World Championship and that some have declined to come over from the States when the Scot flew to San Diego for 15 holes of golf in the World Match Play at La Costa. "These are American events with American money and American TV. If it was a world tour, why was a huge American flag flying on the first tee at La Costa?"

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