Montgomerie ridicules rules

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The reward for a successful season on the PGA European Tour is a trip (no expenses paid) to the Volvo Masters. For the last eight years, Valderrama, consistently rated one of the toughest tests on the tour, has reverberated to the sound of not just golf ball on cork tree, but the odd golf club, and even a head or two, on wood.

For many a journeyman pro, it proves an annual experience in frustration. But a rewarding one, too. For those who have stayed the course since Singapore in the last week of January, the Masters offers a purse of pounds 900,000 to the season's 66 top money winners. In addition, there is a pounds 600,000 bonus pool to be split amongst the top-15 on the Volvo Ranking. In effect, this is official appearance money for the catch is that, to receive it, you have to tee up at Valderrama, even if it only means hitting one shot.

But it is just not for monetary considerations that Robert Allenby, who fractured his sternum in a car crash in this neck of the woods last month, will hit one ball off the first tee at 8.50 this morning, and then let David Howell, his playing partner, to soldier on alone. Allenby, who only arrived late last night after flying in to London from Australia yesterday morning, is currently third on the order of merit and wants to finish as high as possible to entice an invitation from Augusta National for next April's US Masters.

Stuart Cage, 61st on the money list, is standing by as first reserve, but is not hopeful of playing. "We have got into a bit of a state," Colin Montgomerie said. Not as much of a state as if, for some catastrophic reason, Monty, who has already been proclaimed as a winner of the money list for a fourth consecutive year, cannot play today. In that case, Ian Woosnam could overtake the Scot by winning the tournament and collecting his second place bonus.

"You can't blame Robert at all," Montgomerie said. "He is entitled to do it. The rules say you have to compete. But to me, common sense says hitting a putter off the first tee is not competing. We are holding ourselves up to ridicule. It is bringing the game into disrepute." Monty, who will receive the top pounds 150,000 award, does not mind if the bonus is made unofficial "as long as my wife gets it somehow." He added: "Why don't we make it like the US Tour Championship and put the bonus into the prize fund and make it a huge first prize? That would still be an encouragement to play here.''

Montgomerie is in relaxed mood, but keen to add to a record here that shows one win and a play-off loss, to Sandy Lyle. The next time he will play the course will be at next year's Ryder Cup. But Lyle is not here. He was invited on the strength of his 1992 victory, but then had the invitation withdrawn as it was meant for overseas players only. Instead, David Frost, the South African, and Zhang Lian Wei, a multiple winner on the Volvo China Tour, are here but are ineligible for any bonus.