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Last fling for Montgomerie at Valderrama

Colin Montgomerieís grip on Europeís Order of Merit title will not be loosened at the American Express Championship without a struggle. As Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood prepared to supplant the Scot as Europeís No1, Monty was still plotting last night to make it eight-in-a-row.

The dominant European golfer since he came from behind to overhaul Nick Faldo in the 1993 quest for the Harry Vardon Trophy, the Troon man admitted he was reluctant to surrender his place at the head of the table.

"Iím very proud of the record I hold [winning seven years running], so proud that I donít want to lose it," he said. "Even so, if Darren or Lee comes through, then hopefully I will be the first to congratulate them."

Only victory in the American Express will be good enough for the Scot who took heart yesterday from the recollection that his career is littered with end of season surges at Valderrama.

"In 1993, which was my first Order of Merit title, I came into the last tournament in fifth place trailing people like Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer. Those guys were my heroes and to beat them meant a lot," he said.

"Similarly, Iíll never forget what happened in 1995 when I had to beat Sam Torrance to retain the Order of Merit. It was a huge task to do what I did on the back nine that year, but I achieved my goal.

Montgomerie needs to win at Valderrama to have any chance of making it 8 Order of Merits in a row. Allsport.

"Then there was the 1997 Ryder Cup when it all came down to the match I played against Scott Hoch, which wasnít settled until the last hole. Iíll always remember that one too. So Iíve enjoyed some good some good times here and hopefully this year will be no different."

Montgomerie admits that most handicap golfers might find playing Valderrama an unsettling experience but insists the pros relish the challenge.

"I like playing chess round this course - you always have to think one or two moves ahead with your shots. Every hole offers different challenges and potential disasters. If you get round here in level par on a windy day, youíve done well."

Monty accepts that he has played a part in raising the profile which goes with winning the Order of Merit. It wasnít a title which meant much before he came along and if Westwood wins on Sunday you suspect it might not mean much again. "Winning the American Express would give more satisfaction than the Order of Merit," said the six-time victor on this seasonís Tour. "Then Iíd set a record for the most wins in a season.

"As for the Order of Merit, Iíve never really thought about it too much to be honest. It doesnít sit that highly in my priorities."

Clarke was also lukewarm on the subject. "In terms of world ranking, winning this tournament would mean more than the Order of Merit. Thatís not to demean it in anyway, but my long-term goal is to get as high up the world rankings as I can."

Given that thereís $5 million available in prize money this week, as well as $1 million for the winner, perhaps itís not so surprising that much of the build-up to the event should be dominated by talk of cash.

On the European front, Ken Schofield, the executive director, took the unusual step of revealing his salary yesterday - he earns over £200,000 per annum - after calls were made by certain players for more information about the Tourís finances.

A number of major winners - Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal and Bernhard Langer - organised a petition seeking an egm of the Tour to find out where the money goes.

While Schofield was dismissing charges of profligacy - the European Tour have brought in £223 million over the past five years and distributed £170 million in prize money - Tim Finchem, the commissioner of the PGA Tour in America, was also coming under fire from Tiger Woods.

In an article carried by an American magazine, Woods made it clear he was disillusioned with aspects of life on the US Tour and their monopoly of his services. He described the conflict as "serious" and indicated the problem could escalate. Click here for more.

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