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Wales Open
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Stephen Dodd aiming for European top spot

Britain's Stephen Dodd will replace world number five Retief Goosen at the top of the European Tour order of merit if he finishes no worse than second at this week's Wales Open -- his home event.

Welshman Dodd, the surprise player on this year's tour with victories at the season-opening China Open and the Irish Open two weeks ago, lies sixth in the standings with earnings of 787,574 euros ($965,000).

If the 1989 British Amateur champion does overhaul Goosen, he will have to accept his raised profile in the game after conceding on Wednesday that even the British Open had not been in his plans this year until he "unexpectedly" qualified.

"It may sound ridiculous but it interfered with my schedule," Dodd, one of the most quietly-spoken players on the European Tour, told reporters as he prepared for Thursday's opening round.

"I didn't want to have to go off and try and qualify and mess up my schedule when there were so many big events going on around the Open.

"It's not that I don't have ambition, more that the majors were just not part of my planning much until this year."

Dodd, who turned professional in 1990, spent 14 years trying to win his first Tour title but he has grown in stature since his breakthrough in China and his playoff victory over British Ryder Cup player David Howell in Ireland last month.

Although his spectacular rise in the world rankings to 57th has not been good enough to earn him a spot in this month's U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Dodd has qualified for his first U.S. PGA Championship in August.

"I'm in the U.S. PGA and also the NEC (Invitational -- a World Golf Championships event) and that will be a completely new experience, one that I hope I can cope with," said the 38-year-old.

Dodd's ice-cool temperament could be a key factor at Celtic Manor where this week's tournament will be played for the first time on the Roman Road course while the adjoining Wentwood Hills layout is upgraded for the 2010 Ryder Cup.

Britain's Simon Khan, who was fined for slow play in Ireland two weeks ago, defends the title he won in a playoff with compatriot Paul Casey last year after receiving a time warning in the final round.

Irishman Paul McGinley, the 2001 champion, and seven-times European number one Colin Montgomerie, who both booked places at the U.S. Open by returning to the world's top 50 after last week's BMW Championship, are also in the field.

McGinley, who holed the winning putt for Europe at the 2002 Ryder Cup, finished second -- two shots behind winner Angel Cabrera of Argentina -- at Wentworth on Sunday.

Also playing this week are European Ryder Cup players Thomas Bjorn of Denmark and Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez.


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