Two Scots prepare to make every penny count

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reports from Sotogrande

Sam Torrance and Colin Montgomerie were team-mates in the Ryder Cup and the Alfred Dunhill Cup, but this week the cheques and the champagne will not be taken in communion. A marathon duel that began in the desert in Dubai last January reaches its climax in the Volvo Masters at Valderrama here.

Torrance leads the European Tour's Order of Merit with pounds 630,481.28 to Montgomerie's pounds 626,651.40, and whoever finishes top of the money list on Sunday will receive an additional pounds 125,000. The bonus pool amounts to pounds 500,000 and the event's prize money is pounds 750,000.

Torrance and Montgomerie are clear of all but Bernhard Langer and, with so much money available, it is distinctly possible for the German thoro- ughbred to unseat the Scottish stayers. Langer, who is pounds 60,307.11 behind Torrance (the small change could count in the final analysis), won the Volvo Masters 12 months ago, but Monty, who finished fourth, won the Order of Merit for the second year running. Torrance has never won the marathon, although he was pipped to the post by Langer in 1984.

The 42-year-old Torrance will celebrate his 25th year as a European Tour player in style if he finishes in front of Monty here and Langer is not in the top two. However, the Scots are showing signs of wear and tear, having taken part in a longer, more concerted campaign than Langer. While Torrance and Montgomerie were going the distance again at St Andrews last week, Langer was restricting himself to a gentle match against teaching professionals in Munich. "Of course I won," Langer said. "If I hadn't, I shouldn't be playing."

Torrance, meanwhile, is on antibiotics to cure a chest infection and is off alcohol. As he thoroughly enjoys a pint and a roll-up, this could be a handicap for Sam. "I don't think there can be any more pressure on me this week than I had at the Ryder Cup," Torrance said, "and if I was able to handle that, I can handle this week as well."

As for Montgomerie, he has been suffering from a sprained left wrist and on Monday he consulted a specialist. "He told me to rest," Monty said. "If there was a danger of any permanent damage, I wouldn't be here." The rise and rise of Big Monty in the merit table since 1988 is: 52nd, 25th, 14th, 4th, 3rd, 1st, 1st. He pointed out that he has won more money than at this stage last year. "It just so happens that Sam Torrance has done particularly well," Monty said. Note the more formal tone. Last week at St Andrews, it was Sam this, Sam that, no mention of a surname. "It doesn't matter if it was Joe Bloggs," Montgomerie said. "I'd like to beat him."

As it happens, the three principal contenders go out in sequence at lunchtime today: Torrance, followed by Montgomerie, followed by Langer. "And they call it a draw?" Monty asked. He did not object. "If the wind gets up and the greens get spiky, it'll be the same for all three of us. That's quite fair."

What he does not consider fair, however, is what Jaime Ortiz Patino, Valderrama's owner, has done to the 17th hole. The landing area for the drive has been reshaped and the slope of the green changed. "They're trying to copy the 15th at Augusta," Montgomerie said. "I don't know why we should be penalised for hitting the ball a long way. The rough spoils the whole thing and the green is far too hard. They've altered it so many times they should have had it right by now."

Last year, Seve Ballesteros was employed to change the 17th, which is a par five with a lake in front of the green. Miguel Angel Jimenez got an albatross two there, but since then Patino has made further changes. Montgomerie - and he is not alone - thinks the character of the hole has been ruined and it is now virtually impossible to get the ball anywhere near the flag in two. "They have taken away the spectacular shots," Monty said.

The criticism of the 17th will be greeted with shock-horror by Patino, not least for the fact that his masterpiece is, of course, the venue for the 1997 Ryder Cup. Valderrama (considered numero uno for mainland Europe) has been promoted from 86th to 51st in the world rankings, and Patino was confident of further improvement on the basis of changes made to the 17th.

Meanwhile, the course promises to be as unrelenting as ever. The field is restricted to the leading 54 in the merit table and yesterday in the pro-am, 11 of them, including Torrance, failed to return a score. At least they went out. Philip Walton, one of the Ryder Cup heroes, was fined pounds 500 for a no-show. The Irishman had a misunderstanding with his alarm clock.