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Top two give Volvo Masters a miss

The finale to the European golf season, the Volvo Masters, will be fought out this week without money-list winner-elect Ernie Els.

The event will not even boast number two Retief Goosen at Valderrama in Spain when the eponymous 'elite' tournament gets under way on Thursday.

Els sealed the order of merit a few weeks ago and, just like last year when he became number one in Europe for the first time, could not be persuaded to play for love nor money.

The South African has only twice played in the tournament, now reserved for the top 60 on the money-list, appearing as long ago as 1993 and 1998.

With his compatriot Goosen, the 2001 and 2002 European number one, also deciding to spurn the event, the tournament no longer offers a fitting climax to the season.

The only issue to be settled now is whether Irishman Padraig Harrington can win and go past Goosen, a strong supporter of the event until giving it a miss last year.

Former seven-times European number one Colin Montgomerie is not the only one who reckons the Volvo Masters is going to be a pretty tame affair.

It certainly will not be the sort of nail-biter provided by the 1995 Volvo Masters, when virtually his last putt decided whether Montgomerie would claim the third of his order of merit successes after being taken to the wire by the subsequent European number two Sam Torrance.

"The situation we find ourselves in is that it is a world tour and the European Tour order of merit is not a European order of merit any more," says Montgomerie.

"The last proper European order of merit was probably mine in 1999 and with all the World Golf Championship events coming in and Ernie playing well in turn, well it's just all changed.

"Lee's (Westwood) Volvo Masters win in 2000 was when the order of merit last meant something and it meant an awful lot to him to win and an awful lot to me, as everyone well knows, to have won seven in a row.

"But now it can't mean as much because Ernie and Retief are not playing."

One player will give everyone an argument over the importance of the Volvo Masters, however.

He is 43-year-old Terry Price, Australia's grizzled journeyman, who will be making his debut in the event this week after battling for his place on Sunday in the Madrid Open.

He means it in the nicest possible way when he says: "It's taken a long while. I think I can make a nuisance of myself, let them know I'm there."

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