The Volvo Masters is supposed to be the season-ending extravaganza where the European Tour signs off the campaign with a smile, a hearty farewell and a good old backslap for the campaign's most deserving champion. Yeah, right. Try a scowl and a verbal onslaught. And for the golfer who may yet win the Order of Merit title? Well, let us just suggest that not everyone connected with the Tour would be wishing to aim their slaps at the back of Ernie Els.
Certainly not Colin Montgomerie, who finished his pro-am here yesterday before marching straight to the nearest notebook and complaining long and loud about the big South African – and others – electing to play at the Singapore Open instead. "The Order of Merit meant a lot to me and it obviously doesn't to everybody," said Montgomerie, referring to Els, who by playing in Asia is risking forsaking his near £200,000 lead at the head of the money list. "I would never, ever miss this. And when the word wheelbarrow is mentioned, that's not really right."
Indeed, "the filling the wheelbarrow with money" analogy has apparently struck so close to home in the privileged golfing environs as to cause considerable discomfort and Els's honesty in using it may prove his biggest mistake. It was after winning his seventh World Match Play crown at Wentworth last month that he gave his reasons for not going to the Costa del Sol. "How can I say it; the end of the year you've got the wheelbarrow out," he said, commendably not bothering to disguise the fact he is receiving an appearance fee – reported to be £500,000 – in Singapore.
By yesterday morning, Els had updated his description of the clash to something more hostile, accusing the Tour of "screwing up the dates, not me". Els's beef is that the Asian Tour event was scheduled first and that their European counterparts changed their dates knowing that those such as Els, Lee Westwood and Angel Cabrera had already signed contracts to play in .
Montgomerie, however, said: "I don't appreciate the problem they [Els and Co] had, no. Deals could have been done where they played two out of the next three years [in Singapore] or something like that. But this event should be the priority."
Padraig Harrington was quick to admit his pleasure at having a Els-free run at the defence of his title, but refused to castigate the Big Easy. "He's honouring a commitment and doing what he has to do," said the Open champion. Justin Rose pointed out what the Order of Merit would mean to him – "the pinnacle of my career so far".
To make it happen, the Englishman must finish in the top three, at the same time as ensuring Harrington (who is but £461 ahead of him) is behind him. Either of the two Swedes, Henrik Stenson and Niclas Fasth, could prevail if they win and placings go there way.
Montgomerie was not content just to square up to one of the Tour's most prominent members but also to his own Ryder Cup captain. Nick Faldo did start it all by apparently questioning Montgomerie's commitment at the recent Seve Trophy. Montgomerie called Faldo's outburst "strange", asked why he chose "to air his dirty laundry in public", revealed that other Ryder Cup members also felt perplexed and said that should "anyone have a grievance with me about anything like that, then please speak to me and not the media". Els might just see the irony in that last statement.
Race for the Order of Merit title
1 ERNIE ELS (SA)
(Events: 18, Wins: 2, Top three: 6)
What he has to do: If Harrington or Rose fail to finish in the top three and if Stenson and Fasth don't win, he will hang on.
2 PADRAIG HARRINGTON (Irl)
(Events: 14, Wins: 2, Top three: 2)
Must finish in the top three to overhaul Els, and beat Rose.
3 JUSTIN ROSE (Eng)
(Events: 11, Wins: 1, Top three: 4)
Top three place is a must, and so is finishing ahead of Harrington.
4 HENRIK STENSON (Swe)
(Events: 16, Wins: 2, Top three: 3)
Must finish first and pray neither Harrington nor Rose comes second.
5 NICLAS FASTH (Swe)
(Events: 22, Wins: 1, Top three: 3)
Must finish first and pray neither Harrington nor Rose comes second or third.