Langer gets into a hole

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THE 17th hole here, which has been changed to the specifications of Seve Ballesteros, has gained a notorious reputation during the Volvo Masters this week. However, it is not just the penultimate hole that drives Europe's finest to distraction. In yesterday's third round Bernhard Langer, one of only three players with a chance of winning the Order of Merit and a huge cheque, was on the leaderboard until he came to the 15th.

As par threes go, the 15th provides no relief whatsoever. It is 237 yards and Langer went through the green and on to a cart path at the back. The German's pace of play is generally in the tortoise class and heads were turning grey by the time he had finished the 15th. He wanted a ruling on where to drop the ball at the nearest point of relief. It looked as if that would be in the middle of a bush, but Langer was saved from that predicament and was allowed to drop on a stretch of grass.

Then he duffed his chip into the rough short of the green and took a double-bogey five. At the 16th he dropped another stroke and suddenly, for Colin Montgomerie, everything was coming up roses. In the European pecking order Big Monty was second, just behind Sam Torrance, with Langer in third place. Montgomerie shot a third-round 69 and, at one under par for the championship, is in a position to win not only the battle but the war. Three others, Ian Woosnam, Per-Ulrik Johansson and Alexander Cejka, are also at one under, one behind the Swede Anders Forsbrand.

Valderrama, the venue for the 1997 Ryder Cup, is a course for Braveheart. Not many people enjoy playing it but Montgomerie is an exception. He has an impressive track record here and this partly explains why he has won the Order of Merit for the last two years.

Torrance, on the other hand, has never won it and the 42-year old Scotsman is in his 25th year on the European Tour. He lost ground with a 73 in the third round and, at four over par, is five strokes behind Monty and four behind Langer. Today Sam will play it again. "I've got one more chance," he said. "If I can shoot 66 ... you never know. This is a very demanding course and you can't put half a foot wrong. Things don't happen here. You've got to make them happen."

Torrance described what happened to him at the fifth hole as "horrific". He hit a sand wedge for his second shot, the ball clattered into the flag and bounced 20 yards off the green. He took a bogey five and he was looking for a three. "That," he said, "was a pain in the arse."

Montgomerie compared Valderrama to a 28-mile walk. "Seven miles to go and I'm in a position to win," he said. "I didn't come here for a place." From the outset his goal has been to win the tournament, rather than simply settle for a position on the leaderboard, which would guarantee him first place in the Order of Merit. "Winning it twice before has given me self- belief," Monty said. "It's like trying to win your first major. Sam is probably under a bit more pressure than me. Langer is the main threat now."

Not just Langer but Valderrama itself. If the treacherous par fives don't get you there are always the cork trees which stand, like a guard of honour, alongside most of the fairways. Miguel Angel Jimenez was on the leaderboard yesterday until he lost a ball up a tree at the 16th.

There were no such problems for Andrew Coltart. Had Coltart been a showjumper he would probably have won a horse box, as Volvo is involved in equestrianism as well as golf and people like David Broome have won a fleet of vehicles for clear rounds. Time was when professional golfers would also receive some Swedish horsepower for the stroke of luck known as a hole in one.

In the par-three lottery, Coltart's numbers have come up but there has been no special prize. Yesterday he had an ace at the 12th, six days after a hole in one at the eighth in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews. Volvo no longer give cars away to golfers because, frankly, it had become a pointless PR exercise. Most of the players don't need a car and invariably they asked for the cash equivalent. Big Monty has three cars, one of them a Porsche, and it rarely leaves the drive.