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Order of Merit race moves to Germany

Europe's money list race hots up at this week's German Masters, where top-ranked Michael Campbell of New Zealand will have a tough task to protect his status.

The U.S. Open champion is at a happy hunting-ground in Gut Larchenhof, though, and is confident he can stay at the top before ending season as European number one for the first time.

Campbell is around $300,000 ahead of second-placed Retief Goosen in the European order of merit but both players are well aware that this week's event carries a first prize of $627,000.

"It's always a great feeling coming back to a tournament and a venue where you've won," Campbell, 36, said on Wednesday as he prepared for Thursday's opening round.

"I am back here as U.S. Open champion, so a lot has changed in five years, but expectations will be high this week," added the New Zealander, who won the German Masters over three rounds in 2000 after heavy rain washed out the final day.

"It has always been one of my goals to win an order of merit, since I joined the tour full-time in 1995, and that is my strong goal over the next couple of months.

"It would cap off a really good year for me but it's pretty tight at the top at present with Retief breathing right down my neck."

It is not only Goosen who is snapping at Campbell's heels.

Seven-times European number one Colin Montgomerie is close behind in third place while Argentina's Angel Cabrera (fourth), Dane Thomas Bjorn (fifth) and Briton David Howell (sixth) could all overhaul Campbell with victory this week.

South African Goosen, who beat Campbell into second place by six strokes at last week's China Masters, clinched the European order of merit in 2001 and 2002 and has targeted a hat-trick of titles.

"I know Michael is pretty determined to hold on, whilst Monty is just right behind me so he can't be discounted," said twice U.S. champion Goosen.

"If it goes all the way then I'll play the Volvo Masters at the end of the season.

"I definitely want to win the order of merit again and the next three events are very important."

Montgomerie believes a record eighth order of merit title would eclipse all of his previous seven, and also rank higher than his second place behind Tiger Woods at this year's British Open.

"I have always put a league table ahead of individual performance for a week," Montgomerie said. "To win one order of merit you have to stay around.

"I would wrap up all the other seven and place this one ahead of them because last year was my worst and being 83rd in the world (at the start of the year) as well, it is exciting even talking about it."

Ireland's Padraig Harrington defends his title this week at the venue where he made a timely return to form before last year's Ryder Cup.


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