shootout in Valderrama this week
Expect fireworks in Spain this
coming weekend when the Volvo Masters climaxes the European Tour at Valderrama
and not only because it'll likely feature a Retief Goosen-Padraig Harrington shoot-out for the European Crown.
The end of the season battle between the
Goose, last year's European tour title holder and current leader on the European
money list, and the Irish 2002 Ryder Cup hero and defending champion at Valderrama,
should be choc-full of drama to be sure.
With no more than €23 119
separating the two antagonists, and with heavy prize money starting at €522
778, and extending all the way down to 36th place before the amount to be won
actually becomes less than their current difference in earnings, the possibilities
Yet there is more, much more, to make this a not-to-be-forgotten,
For one thing the field, easily the best anywhere
in Europe this year, boasts no less than 24 of this year's tour winners.
another, it includes 11 members of the European Ryder Cup team that triumphed
15½ to 12½ at the Belfry last month.
Along with Harrington
they include Paul McGinley, the fellow countryman he beat to win last year's Volvo
Masters, Denmark's Thomas Björn, England's Lee Westwood, Northern Ireland's
Darren Clarke, Sweden's Niclas Fasth and Pierre Fulke, Spaniard Sergio Garcia,
German Bernhard Langer, Scot Colin Montgomerie and Welshman Phillip Price.
of them are former winners of the Masters, but none have won it more than once.
no one has won it twice in its 16 years of existence a statistic Harrington
would probably prefer not to hear, because Goosen is one of it's strongest contenders
still to triumph. Another statistic that won't be music to Harrington's ears is
that only two former winners, Ronan Rafferty in 1989 and Monty in 1993, have managed
to use the Masters to clinch the Number One Spot on the Volvo Order of Merit.
won it in 1993 on his way to tying up the Volvo Order of Merit for the first time
in his record run of seven consecutive victories.
A year later Langer established
one of the longest-surviving course records in European Tour history with his
9-under 62 in winning the Masters from Seve Ballesteros and Vijay Singh.
who holds many of tournament's records without ever having won it, later matched
Langers mark with a 62 of his own in 1999.
It was Westwood's turn
to win 1997 when the tournament moved to Montecastillo Hotel and Golf Resort and
Clarke's turn in 1998.
Clarke looked all set to win again the following
year when the only-one-win curse struck. Fulke holed a majestic five wood at the
70th to squeeze past the Ulsterman.
Under the watchful eye of owner Jaime
Ortiz-Patiño, Valderrama, which first hosted the Volvo Masters in 1988
when Nick Faldo won with a total of 284, has established a reputation for excellence,
and hosted the 32nd Ryder Cup Matches in 1997 and the WGC-American Express Championship
in 1999 and 2000.
But the big guns, which along with Goosen include two
other significant, yet-to-win contenders in Garcia and Bjorn, are not going to
be the only contenders blazing away at the big prizes.
Some of the Tour's
exciting young turks like last week's winner, Ian Poulter, Ulster's Graeme McDowell,
Denmark's Anders and Soren Hansen, England's Paul Casey, Australia's Adam Scott and South Africa's Trevor Immelman will also be gunning for it.
the smoke and dust of what is almost certain to be a hard-fought Spanish battle,
it's going to be very interesting to see who'll be the last man standing.
the only thing you can be reasonably sure of is that it's not likely to unearth
another first-time tour winner. It never has before.
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