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Goosen defends Order of Merit title

Retief Goosen became only the seventh player to retain the European order of merit title on Sunday, firing a closing 71 to finish at 12-over-par 296 in the Volvo Masters final round.

South African Goosen bounced back from a double-bogey five at the 187-yard third with two birdies in the last eight holes to give second-placed Padraig Harrington no chance of overhauling him in the standings.

Goosen had led Harrington by 23,119 euros ($23,450) at the start of the week and the Irishman needed to finish no worse than 27th at Valderrama on Sunday -- and well clear of the South African -- to attempt to leapfrog the title-holder.

But Harrington, one shot clear of Goosen overnight, bogeyed the last two holes on his way to a two-over-par 73 to close at 13-over 297.

"It's been pretty disappointing for the two of us the way we've been playing the last couple of weeks," said Goosen, who became the first player since Sandy Lyle in 1980 to clinch the order of merit crown with just one victory during the season.

The 33-year-old South African triumphed at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia in January.

"In fact, I've not been playing that well for the past six months, except for the American Express Championship (at Mount Juliet in Ireland in September) where I finished second," he added.

"But you've got to play pretty well for a year or so to defend this title so it's great to come through and pull it off."

Goosen follows in the footsteps of Englishmen Charlie Ward (1949) and Peter Oosterhuis (1972, 1973 and 1974), Ireland's Christy O'Connor (1962), Spaniard Seve Ballesteros (1977, 1987) and Scotsmen Sandy Lyle (1980) and Colin Montgomerie (from 1994 to 1999) in defending the European Tour's order of merit crown.

Goosen said he planned to trim his playing schedule for next year after feeling fatigued playing in "close to 33 or 34 tournaments worldwide" this season.

"I'd probably cut back about four or five events on the European Tour and probably try and do pretty much the same on the U.S. Tour.

"I've played pretty hard now -- and a lot of golf - the last four years."

Defending Volvo Masters champion Harrington paid tribute to Goosen for his achievement, while adding that he had made the mistake of focusing on the order of merit race this week and not on the tournament.

"I'm delighted he shot a good score and went and won it for himself today," said the 31-year-old Irishman. "He has played good golf on both sides of the sea (the Atlantic) this year.

"Obviously I'm disappointed to have lost out but only one guy can win the title each year.

"It meant a lot to me to win the order of merit and it kind of came up on me pretty quickly at the end of the year."

Harrington, who sealed second place in the European money list for the second successive year, admitted that his strategy has been misplaced going into the European Tour's season-ending event.

"I've gained a lot of experience this week and, while I have no regrets, there are some things I would have done differently," he said.

"And that relates to my focus, not at all about playing in tournaments.

"I wasn't playing for the Volvo Masters this week -- I was competing for the order of merit.

It was a different sort of tournament I was competing in this week -- a very different sort of experience."


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