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Order of merit title still undecided

Just two events remain before the end of this season's European Tour and the battle for honours in the order of merit race is set for a tight finish between the pace-setting Retief Goosen and second-placed Padraig Harrington.

Twelve months ago, Goosen had already wrapped up the European order of merit title, having become the first non-European to do so since Australia's Greg Norman in 1982.

Goosen clinched the honour with a playoff victory over England's Steve Webster at the Madrid Open and was able to journey to Jerez two weeks later for the season-ending Volvo Masters with the sole aim of boosting his annual earnings.

This year, the smooth-swinging South African is once again at the top of the standings but is locked in a tense battle with Irishman Harrington that will only be decided in next week's Volvo Masters at Valderrama.

World number four Goosen leads the Irishman by 54,029 euros (34,000 pounds) but, unlike Harrington, will not be playing in this week's Italian Open -- the penultimate event of the season.

Instead, Goosen has opted to play this week in the U.S. PGA Tour's season-ending Tour Championship at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia before returning to the Europe for his Spanish showdown with Harrington.

Harrington, who won last year's Volvo Masters by one shot at Montecastillo to finish second to the South African in the final European money list, wasted a golden opportunity to move ahead of Goosen at last week's Madrid Open.

The Irishman led the field by one going into the last round but then fell back into a three-way tie for seventh -- with Goosen and fellow South African Trevor Immelman -- after closing with a one-over-par 72.

"After a good start, the potential was there for me to do well but, for some reason, the putts just didn't drop," said Harrington, who birdied the first two holes at the Club de Campo before losing his way with three three-putts on the last day.

"I had a disaster on the greens and that always puts pressure on the rest of your game. It was a week that had great potential but it ended up really disappointing.

"My confidence was gone at the end but I'm looking forward to Italy now."

Harrington needs to make the most of Goosen's absence in Rome this week by picking up the $200,000 (128,000 pounds) first prize -- or, at the very least, a top-four finish in the Italian Open to move ahead of Goosen before the season's finale.

Goosen, however, will want to up his game by a gear or two before returning to Europe and he was not overly pleased after closing with a four-under-par 67 in Madrid.

"I just didn't play well enough in the Madrid Open, and I've not been playing so well lately," he said. "I tried, but it just didn't happen."

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