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Europeans looking for strong end to season

Britain's Luke Donald, twice a winner on this year's European Tour, can break into Europe's top 10 for 2004 if he can triumph in the season-ending Volvo Masters at Valderrama this week.

If the 26-year-old Englishman can pull it off, it would represent a remarkable achievement by a player who had pledged himself to competing mainly in the United States this year.

As well as being a success in Europe's triumphant Ryder Cup team in September after being chosen as a wildcard by captain Bernhard Langer, Donald won twice in five weeks after returning to Europe in July for the British Open.

Helped by a tie for third at the Dunhill Links Championship three weeks ago, the former Walker Cup amateur has climbed to 18th place in the European order of merit with earnings of 991,678 euros ($1.27 million).

Should he win this week's first prize of $790,000, he would vault into the top 10.

His change of heart to stay on as a European Tour member by fulfilling his mandatory 11 events this season has reaped rich reward, and he plans to follow suit in 2005.

"I'll be coming over and playing the 11 again next year," Donald told reporters on Wednesday.

"Six months ago, I wouldn't have said the same thing. But I've had a lot of fun playing over here. It's improved my year winning a couple of times in Europe and competing at the Ryder Cup.

"If I had not rejoined the tour, it's doubtful I would have played hardly any events in Europe outside the majors.

"It's hurt me somewhat, though. I haven't made the (U.S.) Tour Championship. It looks as though I'm going to miss out by about five or six spots."

Although European number one Ernie Els, second-ranked Retief Goosen, defending champion Fredrik Jacobson and Australian Adam Scott are among six leading players not playing this week, Donald will still face a strong challenge at Valderrama.

The next three men in the European order of merit after Goosen will be in action -- world number eight Padraig Harrington, Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is looking for a fifth win of the season, and Frenchman Thomas Levet.

All three have a chance to overtake South African Goosen in the money list in the season's finale.

Among the other big names taking part this week are world number 10 Sergio Garcia, winner of the Mallorca Classic two weeks ago, and seven-times European number one Colin Montgomerie.

The 41-year-old Montgomerie, who struggled for form earlier this year while going through a divorce, is determined to end his season in style.

He has been given a place in Tiger Woods's Target World Challenge in December and has set his sights on returning to the world's elite next year.

"It's been a long year in more ways than one," said Montgomerie, twice a winner at Valderrama.

"But now I'm a lot stronger than I was and I'm looking forward to 2005 and getting into the top 20 in the world, where I feel I belong."

Montgomerie added he is almost certain to try to play his way on to Europe's Ryder Cup team for 2006, something Severiano Ballesteros urged him to do last Sunday.

"Seve told me to keep playing as long as you possibly can because you're a long time retired," added Montgomerie.

"And if the players want me to play in the Ryder Cup, as they did this year, well it's very difficult not to."

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