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Justin Rose eyes SA Order of Merit title

England's Justin Rose and South Africa's Tim Clark will continue their battle for the 2001-2002 Sunshine Tour's order of merit crown in this week's South African Masters at Wild Coast Country Club.

The two players, who both won their maiden European Tour titles in South Africa earlier this year, head the tournament field in the absence of the in-form Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.

Durban-born Clark, who won last month's South African Open at Durban Country Club, currently tops the Sunshine Tour money list with earnings of $124,300).

World number seven Goosen is second while Rose, who triumphed in the Dunhill Championship at Houghton Golf Club last month, lies third.

Goosen, though, is out of the money list race and is taking a two-week break from the game after his three-shot victory in the Dimension Data Pro-Am at Sun City on Sunday.

Els is also enjoying a well-earned rest from golf, following his five-stroke triumph in the Heineken Classic in Melbourne at the weekend.

Clark, who became the first pre-qualifier to win on the European Tour since Paul Lawrie won the 1999 British Open, is determined to win the order of merit title and has delayed his return to the United States in his bid for success.

The South African has a full medical exemption on the U.S. Tour, following wrist surgery during 2001, and was scheduled to return there two weeks ago.

But he decided to remain in the land of his birth and is determined to end the 2001-2002 season on top of the S.A. money list, thereby securing an automatic invitation to this year's British Open at Muirfield and also to the WGC-American Express Championship at Mount Juliet in Ireland.

"Staying on here in South Africa, and continuing to play well, has helped my confidence greatly for the US PGA Tour," Clark said.

"I am not sure about the wrist yet, but it seems fine at the moment."

Clark, who spent most of his early years playing golf on the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, should feel at home at the windswept Wild Coast Country Club but Rose, too, will fancy his own chances of victory come Sunday.

Although the Johannesburg-born Englishman missed the cut in Melbourne last week, he has generally displayed impressive form over the past month and his breakthrough win in the paid ranks has done wonders for his confidence.

"Winning here certainly opens up the potential for me to get into the heavyweight World Golf Championship events and be exempt for the (British) Open, and all that will make it easier for me to climb the European order of merit," he said after clinching victory by two shots in the Dunhill Championship.

Both Clark and Rose will have to beware of one player in particular at Wild Coast Country Club this week - defending champion Mark McNulty of Zimbabwe.

McNulty, 48, won last year's title - and his fifth at the Wild Coast - after a dramatic comeback on the final day and he has always been a brilliant player in the wind, which usually tends to batter the course during the week.


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