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Westwood & Clarke battle continues in Belgium

The European Tour arrives in Belgium this week for the Belgacom Open at the Royal Zoute golf course in Knokke.

It will mark the latest in an on-running battle between Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood for the continent’s Order of Merit champion. Clarke currently leads Westwood after finishing third in the European Masters two weeks ago.

He then extended his advantage over the Worksop man with a second place in the Lancome Trophy last week.

Those results, when paired alongside Clarke’s assertion that he has played ‘awful’ in places recently, particularly around the greens, adds particular credence to the view that the Ulsterman has entered the world’s elite.

It began with his victory in the World Matchplay win over Tiger Woods in February, and could well finish with the title of Europe’s best golfer at Valderrama in November.

However Westwoodbegins the week in Belgium as favourite with Surrey Sports at 6/1, although given Clarke’s (8/1) superiority on links courses, many will fancy his chances of extending his lead at the top of the Order of Merit. Although Zoute has more trees than most seaside courses, it still relies on the wind and sea breezes for its protection.

The rise of the pair is as notable as the relative demise of the Europe’s best player for the last seven years, Colin Montgomerie. It would appear that as Monty’s waistline disappears, so does his form. He marked his 300th European Tour event by missing the cut for the first time in 37 tournaments at the BMW International Open two weeks ago, and finished a disappointing 46th in Paris at the weekend.

Clarke & Westwood, seen here at last years Ryder Cup.Allsport

He is now almost certain to surrender the crown he has held since 1993, the only question is whether it will be to Westwood or Clarke.

Montgomerie is keen to dispel any suggestion of a lack of commitment though, insisting his desire for success is as strong as ever.

"My current form is obviously not as good as I would like but at the same time I have been practising an awful lot at Wisley on my time off," he said.

"I've got this tournament and three big tournaments - the German Masters, Volvo Masters and Valderrama - to come. I am determined as ever.

"I know I am good enough to win all these tournaments and I would like to try and win three out of four of them to win the Order of Merit. That is now becoming a goal.

"Although I am way behind and people have given up on me, I haven't and I never will. I came from fifth in the last tournament to win the Order of Merit in 1993 and I'll have to do a similar thing again this year."

The course, at 6,907 yards, is one of the most respected courses on the tour, and is known to be a favourite of players such as Thomas Bjorn, Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo. Faldo however is a no-show this week, which is perhaps surprising given his proclaimed desire to pick up as many Ryder Cup points as quickly as possible.

He has made a good start too. A sixth and 12th-place finish in the last two weeks represent excellent form for the former world number one, so one might expect him to take that onto a course he likes. However a look at the schedule reveals that the German Masters lies just around the corner – a tournament worth almost three times as much as the Belgacom. Faldo is clearly waiting for bigger fish to fry.

For everyone else however, a prize fund of £700,000 seems adequate, but for Westwood and Clarke, the prize is potentially so much bigger.

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