After 21 years of acting as the season-ending finale to the European Tour, the Volvo Masters will receive its own curtain-falling experience here these next four days. It will be fitting if the four players who can still win the Order of Merit title that has always given this tournament its extra dimension can deliver the climax this proud event deserves. Alas, the whisper on the range these last few days has not centred around the question of whether Padraig Harrington, the year's dual major champion, can overhaul Robert Karlsson, the "Mr Consistent" of 2008, or indeed if Lee Westwood or Miguel Angel Jimenez can produce the late and unlikely charge to steal the Harry Vardon Trophy.
It has been all about Justin Rose being asked to lead off the first round on his own at 8.15am this morning, which is a highly unusual and, plenty here believe, highly disrespectful scenario, seeing as the Englishman happens to have won this event last year.
"Yeah some of the guys have been outraged on my behalf and have said, 'How can they treat the defending champion like this?'," confirmed Rose.
However, fortunately for the Tour officials, who on Tuesday came in for criticism from Harrington for not having done enough to recognise the standing of Seve Ballesteros the last few years, the player himself is comfortable with the draw. Rose, who has decided to go it alone and has turned down the chance to have a "marker" playing alongside him, recognises the benefits of playing on "virgin" greens without spike marks.
"It could work out to my advantage, so it's OK with me," he said. "I did think it was a bit weird at first, but then I thought, 'Where else could they put me?'" The Volvo Masters tradition has always been to send out the field in money-list order (i.e. Karlsson and Harrington out last as Nos 1 and 2) and as he finished way down in 81st after what he admitted was "a disappointing season", Rose (above) was duly considered the odd man out.
As the Englishman walks down these fairways alone, he may well feel a wally, but in the event he may be the last one laughing. "As long as I'm not out on my own on Sunday I don't care," he said.
By then Rose could well have relocated his renowned grinding ability to figure high on the leaderboard on this layout that has the severity of a major, if not quite the standing. With his near £230,000 lead, Karlsson has to be the favourite despite the first prize here being over £562,000, the second prize being nigh on £375,000 and the man in closest pursuit having three majors to his name in the last 15 months. The last fact has clearly made the 6ft 5in Swede slightly embarrassed as he stands on the brink of his biggest achievement to date.
"The Order of Merit's a funny thing because it depends so much on how many tournaments you've played on Tour," said Karlsson. "Padraig's played something like 13 and I've played 22 or something. It's like Manchester United fighting out the league title with Arsenal and one has played 13 matches and the other 22. So it's a bit unfair. But if I win, I'm not going to complain, put it that way."
How to win on Merit: Race to be Europe No 1
Order Of Merit Standings:
1. R Karlsson (Swe) £2,087,074
2. P Harrington (Irl) £1,856,762
3. L Westwood (Eng) £1,725,556
4. M A Jimenez (Sp) £1,563,106
* Karlsson will top OM if he finishes in top two at Valderrama or if Westwood and Harrington do not finish in top two and if Jimenez does not win.
* Harrington will top OM if he wins and Karlsson does not finish at least second or if he finishes 2nd and Karlsson does not finish in top five and Westwood does not win
* Westwood will top OM if he wins and Karlsson does not finish in first three.
* Jimenez will top OM if he wins and Karlsson does not finish in top 38 and Harrington does not finish in top twoReuse content