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Westwood & Clarke looking to settle Order of Merit

Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke will both be intent on signalling the end of Colin Montgomerie's reign as Europe's top golfer at the Volvo Masters starting on Thursday.

Westwood enters the penultimate event of the season best placed to kill off Montgomerie's dwindling hopes of an eighth consecutive European Tour order of merit title.

The Englishman heads the rankings with $1.99 million in prize money, leading Clarke of Northern Ireland by $67,500.

Montgomerie, meanwhile, lies in sixth, more than $600,000 adrift, and has already conceded he will need to succeed at both Jerez -- won last year by Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain -- and the season-ending Valderrama World Championship starting on November 9 to retain his title.

The first prize at Jerez is $486,000, with Valderrama offering $1 million.

Montgomerie won the Volvo Masters in 1993 but Westwood (1997) and Clarke (1998) have also lifted the trophy.

Westwood, now ranked fifth in the world, one place above Montgomerie, missed the chance of increasing the pressure on his rivals at the Italian Open last week.

With Clarke and Montgomerie missing, the 27-year-old, seeking a record seventh European title in one season, could only manage a share of 12th place.

"I feel rusty after two weeks off," he said at the time. "I'd rather it happen this week and not next week."

Montgomerie, though, has done little to suggest a spectacular end-of-season revival, his two wins this year both dating back to May.

He did rediscover some form at the World Match Play championship at Wentworth last month, only to lose the final to Westwood in a play-off.

Montgomerie, increasingly focused on the majors rather than the European rankings, said of Westwood: "He's had a great year and he's favourite to take another of my titles at the end of the year."

Clarke, who moved up to 10th in the world rankings for the first time this week, said: "It's a pretty important two weeks...hopefully I will give myself a chance to win the order of merit."

He added: "I have progressed but maybe not won as many tournaments as I would have hoped. I'm looking forward to the challenge...if I play well enough, I think I can win."

Clarke enjoys one psychological advantage over his peers if the order of merit fails to be decided at the Volvo Masters.

That would mean Europe's top player for 2000 being crowned at Valderrama, where the world's best will be taking part, including 1999 winner Tiger Woods.

And while most of the field will shudder at Woods' presence, Clarke can take encouragement from his victory over the American in February to claim the World Golf Championship Matchplay title.

 

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